Results tagged ‘ brandon sloter ’

6/8/10 at Citi Field

I attended this game for one reason only: to see my buddy Heath Bell. (If you’re new to this blog, click here, here, here and here to read old entries about Heath’s awesomeness.) But before he and his Padres teammates took the field, there were Mets BP balls to be snagged…

My first ball was tossed by a player who was jogging on the warning track. I think it was Fernando Nieve, but I’m not sure because I never got a good look at him. In any case, the ball sailed right over a little kid in the front row, so as soon as I caught it, I gave it to him. My friend Brandon was at this game and took the following photo as I handed the ball over:

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In the photo above, the fan wearing the white shorts is a friend of mine named Brian (aka “puck collector” in the comments). The other fan wearing the red cap is his dad, Wayne (aka “father puck”). I didn’t know they’d be there, so it was a nice surprise to see them. Brian got off to a slow start during BP, but recovered nicely and finished with a total of four balls. As for me, my day got off to a blistering pace.

John Maine tossed me a ball in left-center…

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…but his throw fell short and bounced off the plexiglass at the bottom of the steps. Guess what happened next? He went and got another ball, and he threw that one too short as well. I’m not sure if he was messing around with me or what, but he was acting like his arm hurt too much to reach me. (For the record, he is on the 15-day DL with “right shoulder weakness,” but come on, he couldn’t have been much more than 50 feet away.) Francisco Rodriguez, who was shagging in right field, saw what was happening and took over for Maine. He got a ball and FIRED it at me from about — oh, I don’t know — 150 to 200 feet away, and his aim was perfect. (Too bad he can’t pitch like that when it counts.) It felt great to catch it. I’d been trying for years to get one from him, especially in recent years after he set the single-season saves record, but he was always…how should I say this? Umm…rude.

Chris Carter tossed me my third ball less than a minute later, and then I lunged awkwardly over the railing and grabbed a ground-rule double that unexpectedly bounced all the way up off the warning track.

Ready to see a VERY cool photo? Look what a fancy camera can do:

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Here, let me give you a closer look:

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It was a home run that was hit by a right-handed batter on the Mets. I wish I knew who, but whatever, the most important thing is that I caught it, and as you can see, I was straddling a row of seats at the time. Basically, what happened is that I ran to my right when the ball was hit, and then once I got in line with it and determined that it was going to fall a bit short, I started climbing forward over the seats. What I love about the photo is that you can see the seams on the ball. There’s no way that I could ever capture that kind of movement/detail with my little rinky-dink camera, but hey, that’s why Brandon is a professional videographer and I’m not. (That’s part of the reason, at least. It also helps to have mad camera/editing skills.)

Speaking of video, Brandon was filming when Jason Bay belted a home run right to me. Here are a few screen shots that show how it played out. You can see the ball in the first one:

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See the guy wearing the white shirt on my left? He was cutting through the row just in front of me, and if you look closely, you can see that he was reaching up with his bare hand even though he had a glove. What you can’t see is that this guy was out of control. I didn’t mind that he tried to rob me — a home run is anyone’s ball, and he had every right to go for it — but I didn’t appreciate the fact that he smacked into me. That said, check out what happened next:

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That’s right. The guy lost his balance and went flying. (He wasn’t hurt, and he ended up snagging two baseballs later on, so don’t feel too bad for him.) In the photo above on the right, you can see me holding up my arms as if to say, “I have nothing to do with this.”

My seventh ball of the day was tossed by Hisanori Takahashi (yes, I asked him in Japanese), and my eighth was totally unexpected. Jose Reyes was in the cage, taking cuts from the right side and peppering line drives all over the field. At one point, I turned to watch one, and before I knew it, I heard everyone around me yelling, “HEADS UP!!!” I looked up just in time to see another ball flying 10 feet to my left and five feet over my head. And then — CRACK!!! — Reyes promptly hit another line drive somewhere. Could Reyes have hit a home run in such a quick time frame when I wasn’t looking? It seemed unlikely, and after I chased down the ball, I looked up and noticed that a coach was hitting fungos from shallow center field. I would bet that the ball was a fungo that sailed too far. The guys in front of me insisted it was a Reyes homer, but I didn’t trust their baseball knowledge.

Here’s another series of three photographs, but I’m going to show them one at a time. First, Brandon took a shot of me standing around (which he later converted to sepia):

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Then Jose Reyes scorched a deep line drive in my direction. Brandon told me later that he thought the ball was going to sail over my head. This was never even an option in my mind. I had it all the way and knew that it was going to fall short, so I drifted down to the front row…

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…and then lunged as far over the railing as possible:

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I caught the ball in the tip of my glove and got a thumbs-up from Takahashi.

I had nine balls. It was 5:02pm. The stadium had only been open for 22 minutes. (If the wind hadn’t been blowing in, I’m sure I would’ve had at least a dozen by that point — maybe even 14 or 15.) That’s when my friend (and former Watch With Zack client) Ross showed up. (You might remember him from 9/6/09 at Citi Field and 9/23/09 at Citi Field.) Here we are talking to each other:

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“Want to guess how many balls I’ve snagged?” I asked.

“One?” he said. “Two?”

He was rather surprised to hear the actual number, and he took it well. (He was supposed to have arrived at the start of BP, but got held up because of an unfavorable train schedule.) He ended up snagging two baseballs — a respectable total under any circumstances, and especially good for having missed such a big chunk of time at the start.

Okay, get ready for another three-part photo, and let me first explain what you’re about to see…

The batter hit a home run to my right — a full section to my right — so I started running through a half-empty row. There was a man standing in the middle of the row, so I knocked him down and kept running. Just kidding. (No really, I’m kidding.) Without slowing down, I leapt over the seats into the next row and kept running. I didn’t end up getting the ball, so you know it has to be cool if I’m still showing it. Here, check it out:

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See what I’m talking about? In the first photo, I’m jumping off my left foot and lifting my right leg over the seats. (You may recall that I sprained my left ankle on 5/19/10 at Turner Field. Needless to say, it’s all better.) In the middle photo, I’m flying above the seats with my legs pulled up. And in the photo on the right, I’m about to land on my right foot while looking up at the ball. I didn’t even realize that I’d hurdled a row of seats until Brandon showed me the footage later on. (Don’t you just love the fact that Wayne is not even looking up? He was filling out his scorecard.)

This is when things slowed waaaaay down for me. You see, Heath Bell wandered out in front of the Padres’ dugout while Mets were still hitting, and I had to head over and talk to him:

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“First things first,” I told him, “congrats on an outstanding season in every possible sense.”

“Thanks,” he said, “but we still have a few more months to go.”

We chatted about random stuff for a minute, and then he asked, “How’s the book coming along?”

“Oh my GOD,” I said, “It’s killing me. It’s taken over my life, and I’m completely stressed.”

He asked me why, so I told him about my deadlines and all the remaining chapters that I still need to write and then edit.

I thought we were going to keep talking for a while, but all his teammates started pouring onto the field, so he had to go stretch with them. It was kind of frustrating because I knew he would’ve talked longer, but at least I got to see him.

I headed back to left field while the Mets finished hitting. When the Padres came out to throw, Brandon took a bunch of photos of Heath, including this one:

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The Padres eventually began their portion of BP, and it was dead. The players shagging in left field were ignoring everyone (ahem…cough-cough…Mat Latos), so I headed over to right field. I thought I might have better luck there, and also, Heath was in right-center. I wasn’t planning to ask him for a ball. I just…I don’t know…wanted to stand closer to him because…why not?

Brandon followed me out to right field, and soon after we arrived, he began shouting like a madman. Let me paraphrase:

“ZACK!!! HERE IT COMES!!!”

When I looked up, the only thing I saw was the overhang of the Pepsi Porch. (That’s the second deck.) Where was the ball? Was it a home run? Or was a player throwing one into the seats?

THWACK!!!

A ball came out of nowhere and landed in my row about 15 feet to my right. Luckily, it didn’t take a crazy bounce, and I chased after it:

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I was able to grab the ball just before the other guy (wearing the orange shirt in the photo above) got there. It was my 10th ball of the day, and it was a beauty. Check out the double-scuff:

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Heath saw the whole thing play out and came over to talk to me. In the following photo, you can see me leaning out of the stands just to the left of the “M” in “The Mo’s Zone.” Heath had to keep one eye on the batter, so that’s why he’s not looking at me in this particular shot:

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The music was blasting, so we had a tough time hearing each other. In addition, Heath had to keep craning his neck to look up at me, so he told me to head over to the seats along the right field foul line.

Much better:

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See the cap I’m wearing? Here’s a closer look at it. Heath gave it to me on 8/31/08 at PETCO Park.

Heath and I talked for the rest of BP, and eventually, other fans got in on the conversation, too. One topic that came up was his recent bashing of the Mets organization. I hadn’t even heard about this. Another fan brought it up and was NOT happy about it. Heath was cool about it and defended himself well. He said that the newspaper pulled random quotes out of context and completely got the facts wrong, and that he’s so mad about it that he’ll never talk to any reporter from that paper again. He did, however, give a specific example of how badly the Mets treated him, and it was shocking. He said that when the Mets clinched the NL East in 2006, he was reprimanded and fined for “celebrating excessively” after the game. I asked him what exactly he had done that was deemed excessive. He said he was just spraying champagne in the clubhouse with David Wright and Jose Reyes and jumping around with everyone else and screaming and going nuts, but because he hadn’t been on the team all year — because he had spent more time in the minors than the majors — some people in the front office basically said he shouldn’t have been THAT excited…and that he was out of line…and that he didn’t really deserve to be such a big part of the celebration. These are not exact quotes. I’m just summing it up, but you get the idea. I was amazed and disgusted to hear that the Mets treated him like that. As Heath pointed out, he’d already been with the organization for many years at that point. He said he absolutely loved the Mets and rooted for them as much as anyone, even when he was in the minor leagues, so when he finally made it to the majors and the team clinched, he was as excited as anyone and just let loose. Can you blame him? All I can say is: shame on the Mets. Of course, there may be another side to the story, and if there’s anyone from the team’s 2006 front office who’s reading this, please get in touch and tell me the story from your point of view, and I’ll be happy to blog about it. (Maybe the Mets executives from 2006 are now running Best Buy. That would explain a lot.) Heath did say that he’d be happy to return to the Mets someday. He said he’s only upset about how he was treated by a small group of executives, most of whom are now gone.

Everyone appreciated hearing Heath speak from the heart, and let me make one thing clear: the time he spent chatting it up along the foul line wasn’t all negative. On the contrary, there were lots of funny moments. For example, there was an annoying kid who kept begging for a ball and eventually told Heath that it was his first game.

“It’s my first game, too,” said Heath. Then he paused and said, “Today.”

Everyone laughed, and then Heath turned to one of the security guards and said, “What about you?”

“It’s also my first game,” said the guy with a rough New York accent.

“Hey, me too!” I shouted. “This is my first game ever!”

It was hilarious. Everyone was cracking up and declaring that it was their first game, and as for the kid, Heath ended up signing an autograph for him, so all was right with the world. Heath signed for everyone. He was accommodating and funny and insightful and friendly. If you don’t root for him (at least when he’s not facing your favorite team of your fantasy players), then there has to be something wrong with you.

Shortly before the game started, I snagged my 11th ball of the day behind the Padres’ dugout. Jerry Hairston tossed it to me after playing catch, and then I grabbed a seat in the eighth row. It was a good spot to snag a 3rd-out ball, but I had some competition. Brian and Ross were there, and they were both wearing Padres gear. We decided to take turns each inning rather than simultaneously charging down to the front row and creating a mini-stampede. Brian, we all agreed, would get the 1st, 4th, and 7th innings, I would get the 2nd, 5th, and 8th, and Ross would get the 3rd, 6th, and (if necessary) 9th. We were all sitting behind the outfield end of the dugout — the perfect spot to get a ball from the first baseman, but a terrible spot to get one from the catcher. I would’ve gone to the home plate end, but I’d just gotten the ball from Hairston over there, and I didn’t want to intrude on the people in that section. I told Ross that he should go there, but he didn’t, and whaddaya know? Ike Davis struck out to end the first inning, and Nick Hundley, the Padres catcher, tossed the ball into the crowd right where he would’ve been. One inning later, when Mike Pelfrey tapped softly back to the pitcher for the final out, I headed down to the front row and knew that I was going to get the ball. There was absolutely no doubt about it. The only question was whether Adrian Gonzalez would toss me the actual game-used ball or if he’d pull a switcheroo and give me the infield warm-up ball instead.

Here’s a photo of the ball in mid-air, heading toward me…

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…and here’s the ball itself:

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Clearly, it was the infield warm-up ball; a gamer would never be that dirty and messy. Did I care? Not at all. I was just glad to have another ball.

That was the last time I went down to the dugout for the rest of the game. Instead, I sat with Brandon (and his family) near the back of the section. This was our view:

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His mother had purchased tickets there, and while it pained me to sit in the middle of a row, I knew that there really wasn’t any other place I could’ve gone that would’ve been much better. Citi Field is a decent stadium for batting practice, but once the game starts, it’s terrible for ballhawking. I won’t get into all the reasons why. Just take my word for it.

Late in the game, I headed out to the seats in deep right-center. This was my fabulous view:

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I wasn’t out there to look at the field. I just wanted to get close to the bullpen so I could see Heath again. This was the view to my left and behind me (after I reached over the railing with my camera):

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In case you can’t tell, that’s Heath on the left. Soon after I took that photo, he saw me and gave a subtle nod.

The game was awesome. The Padres were winning, 1-0, with two outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. I was counting down the outs — four to go at that point — until Heath would get a save opportunity, but Jose Reyes spoiled it with a deep drive to left. The ball hit the very top of the wall and bounced back onto the field. At first, it was ruled “in play,” but then the umps reviewed it and overturned the call and awarded Reyes with a game-tying homer.

Before I headed back to the dugout, I met a young man named Brian (not to be confused with the Brian that I mentioned earlier) who told me he’d been reading this blog for a couple years. He also told me that he had a photo of me, and he asked if I would sign it. My answer, of course, was yes, and he let me take a photo of him holding it up:

Anyone want to guess what baseball I’m holding in the signed photo? Here’s a hint: you can find it in the photo section of my website. Also, FYI, the number under my name says “4520.” That was my current ball total at the time that I signed it. I’ve been signing all snag-related autographs like that since my first book came out in 1999. I never signed Watching Baseball Smarter with my ball total under my name, but I plan on going back to that signature when The Baseball comes out next year.

I made it back to the dugout during the top of the 10th inning, and Ike Davis won it in the bottom of the 11th with an absolute BOMB to right field. According to Hit Tracker, the ball traveled 444 feet (and jumped off the bat at a speed of 113.7 miles per hour). Look where it went. Cool, no?

Davis’s home run was a solo shot.

Final score: Zack 12, Mets 2, Padres 1.

My Ballhawk Winning Percentage is now .833 (12.5 wins, 2.5 losses). That’s good for first place in all six major league divisions.

Next game for me? Who knows. I seriously have to get back to work on my book.

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 12 balls at this game (11 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 162 balls in 15 games this season = 10.8 balls per game.

• 644 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 490 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 353 consecutive Mets home games with at least one ball (338 at Shea Stadium; 15 at Citi Field)

• 127 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

• 4,520 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 37 donors (click here to learn more)

• $5.41 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $64.92 raised at this game

• $876.42 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

5/12/10 at Camden Yards

Most.

Frustrating.

Game.

Ever.

It started at 5pm when I ran inside the stadium and saw this:

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It was just starting to drizzle. The groundskeepers were just starting to roll out the tarp. The Orioles, who HAD been taking batting practice, were walking off the field. Why was this a big deal? Because the last two times I was at Camden Yards for batting practice, I snagged 22 balls the first day and 25 the second.

Normally, I would’ve raced out to left field to look for balls in the empty seats, but instead I stopped by the dugout to talk to Jeremy Guthrie (whom I’ve gotten to know quite well over the past two seasons). Why was this a big deal? Because a fellow ballhawk named Matt, who had entered the stadium 10 seconds after me, ended up running out there and finding ELEVEN balls!!!!!!!!!!! (That’s one exclamation point per ball.)

My friend Brandon showed up soon after with his fancy camera. Here’s a photo he took of the batting cage being rolled away:

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Five minutes later, Ichiro started playing in shallow left field. This is how I wore my Mariners shirt to get his attention:

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As he finished throwing, I waved to get his attention…

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…and he threw the ball to me. Here I am reaching out for it:

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I adore Ichiro. Getting a ball from him was the highlight of my day. It would’ve been the highlight of my month if he hadn’t thrown one to me on 5/10/05 at Yankee Stadium.

Brandon takes amazing photos…like this one…of my reaction to the weather:

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(Note the raindrop on the upper right.)

In the photo above, you can see someone on the Mariners playing catch in the background. It was Jack Wilson. He was throwing with the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator. At least that’s who I think it was — and that’s who tossed me the ball when they finished. Here’s the ball in mid-air, heading to me:

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See the guy to my right in the tan cargo shorts? That’s another fellow ballhawk named Avi. He’s the one who visited the Camden Club with me the day before.

A few more Mariners came out to play catch. Here’s a photo (taken by Brandon) of Sean White:

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In the photo above, the orange seat indicates where Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run landed.

My third ball of the day was thrown by Brandon League, and my fourth ball, pictured below in mid-air, was tossed by Mariners bullpen catcher Jason Phillips:

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Even though it was raining, a bunch of Mariners signed autographs. Here I am getting David Aardsma on my ticket…

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…and here’s the ticket itself:

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As you can see, I got four guys to sign it, and they all (sloppily) wrote their uniform numbers. Aardsma (53) is on the upper right, Jesus Colome (37) is in the middle, Ian Snell (35) is on the left, and Sean White (46) is on the lower right.

Brandon gave me his ticket, and I got John Wetteland to sign it:

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Wetteland was talking (to all the fans who were willing to listen) about electro-magnetism and atomic radiation and the big bang theory. And that was just the beginning. It was weird and funny — although he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was being totally serious, which made it funny…to me.

Eventually, when it really started raining hard, I took cover under the overhang of the second deck and pulled out my tickets to have a look. The nearest usher thought I needed help finding my seat, so I explained that I was merely checking out the autographs that I’d gotten. He and a couple other guys gathered around to have a look at them, too:

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Brandon photographed everything, including this:

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It’s a shot of me giving away one of my baseballs to a little kid — something I try to do at least once or twice at every game.

I headed down to the front row for pre-game throwing…

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…and got a ball from Josh Wilson. The following eight-part photo shows the ball from the time it was in his hand until I caught it. You might want to click it for a closer look:

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The game was delayed 24 minutes at the start.

And then…look how small the crowd was:

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You’d think I would’ve caught 17 foul balls and five home runs, right?

Yeah, not exactly.

And guess what? Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t in the starting lineup. He was THE reason why I took this little roadtrip in the first place. Things just kept getting worse and worse.

This is where I positioned myself for most right-handed batters:

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Over the course of the game, two foul balls landed less than five feet from me. In both cases, I was the closest fan to them — and in both cases, the balls ricocheted wildly off the seats and ended up getting grabbed by other people. If the balls had simply stayed where they landed, these would’ve been easy snags.

NOW do you see why this game was so frustrating?

Well, there’s more…

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Luke Scott connected on the game’s lone home run. I was at the back of the standing-room-only section. The ball was heading right toward me, but falling short, so I raced up toward the wall and reached out at the last second to make the catch. It was THAT close to me. I actually squeezed my glove in anticipation. The ball never touched my glove, however, because the guy standing directly in front of me stuck his bare hands up and deflected it. The ball didn’t hit me in the face — I do have THAT to be thankful for — but instead it bounced directly over my head and rolled back to the exact spot where I’d been standing.

I was doing everything right, but couldn’t catch a break. Not to sound overly dramatic, but in all seriousness, my horrendous luck really made me question things. I can think of several instances where I’ve been angry inside major league stadiums, but this game, by far, left me feeling more frustrated than ever.

After the top of the 6th inning, I got a third-out ball from future Hall of Famer Nick Markakis. He had caught a fly ball hit by Jose Lopez to end the frame, and when he tossed it into the crowd, it got bobbled and then started trickling down the steps. During the mad scramble that ensued, I grabbed the ball out of puddle underneath a seat in the front row. I scraped my knuckles in the process. The whole night sucked.

Griffey pinch hit in the top of the ninth…

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…and hit a sacrifice fly to right field — right in my direction, but about 75 feet too short.

Bah.

After the game, I got my seventh ball of the day from home plate umpire Joe West, but I still felt like crap.

Final score: Orioles 5, Mariners 2. At least I notched another win for my Ballhawk Winning Percentage, which now stands at .850 (8.5 wins and 1.5 losses).

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 7 balls at this game (6 pictured on the right because I gave one away)

• 95 balls in 10 games this season = 9.5 balls per game.

• 639 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 190 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,453 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 31 donors (click here and scroll down to see who has pledged)

• $4.95 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)

• $34.65 raised at this game

• $470.25 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Taking batting practice at PNC Park

The best thing that happened on my birthday this year was NOT snagging 22 balls at Camden Yards. Not even close. The highlight was receiving the following email from my friend Erik Jabs:

Zack,
I remember you writing that one day you’d like to take BP on a major league field.

PNC Park is having a season ticket holder batting practice on Tuesday,
Oct 6. It’s a regular BP with the cages and screens and everything.
They also use MLB balls, and you can elect to use players’ game bats.

I’d you’d like to, you’re welcome to be my guest and take BP on that day.

I wrote a little about it last year when my blog was beginning:
http://countingbaseballs.mlblogs.com/archives/2008/09/92408_pnc_park_season_ticket_h.html

Let me know,
Erik

Three weeks after I received this email, I flew to Pittsburgh with my mom (who came along just to watch) and my friend Brandon (who took all the photos you’re about to see)…

Here I am walking into PNC Park with Erik and a few of his friends:

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This was my reaction after stepping onto the field:

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It was nine o’clock in the morning. The sun was bright, but the grass was still wet, and it was only 49 degrees — not ideal conditions to jack one over the fence, but I was hopeful.

There were only about 100 people in our 9am-11am group, and we all gathered in the stands for the welcome speech:

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The speaker thanked us for supporting the Pirates in 2009 (You’re welcome!) and explained a few basic things about how our three-group session on the field was going to be run:

Group One would be hitting first…

Group Two would be free to roam anywhere on the field and shag baseballs…

Group Three would start by lining up on the warning track in right field and catching fly balls that were going to be fired from a pitching machine…

I was in Group Three, which meant that all the balls were going to be soggy by the time I stepped into the cage. It also meant that I had to break the rules for a couple minutes and play catch at shortstop:

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The rules, it should be noted, were not strictly enforced. Some people from Group Two made a beeline for the right field warning track, while others in Group Three (like me and Erik) wandered all over the place.

Here I am with Erik:

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(Erik is 6-foot-4.)

The fly ball machine was positioned on the infield dirt behind first base:

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It wasn’t THAT exciting to catch routine 200-foot fly balls fired from a machine, especially when I had to wait in line for five minutes between each one. What WAS exciting was simply being on the field:

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Quite simply, it was a dream come true.

Finally, after more than an hour, Group Three was called in to hit. I raced to the front of the line and grabbed an aluminum bat that belonged to one of Erik’s friends. I could’ve used wood — there were more than a dozen players’ bats lying around — but I decided I’d go with metal until I put one out.

Unfortunately, that never happened (and here’s where I make tons of excuses)…

In addition to the balls being damp, I had to hit off a pitching machine that was firing most of the balls shoulder-high. Also, the late-morning sun was shining right in my eyes from straight-away center field. In addition, I only got eight pitches, which included my bunt to start the round as well as another pitch that I took moments later because it was head-high. There were so many people waiting to hit, and the guys feeding the machine were in such a rush to get me out of the cage that they only gave me three seconds between each swing to get ready for the next one. It was like, “Hurry up and have your fun and get the hell out.” (But don’t get me wrong: it WAS fun.)

Here I am taking a mighty cut at one of the only belt-high pitches I saw:

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Although, as I mentioned above, I didn’t hit a ball out of the park, I did manage to hit a line drive that bounced onto the warning track. If the ball weren’t damp and heavy, it might’ve gone out, and if I’d swung about an eighth of an inch lower, it definitely would’ve gone out.

After everyone in Group Three got their eight-pitches (no one in any group even came close to hitting one out), we each got to jump back in the cage for a four-pitch lightning round. Brandon wandered out behind the mound and took the following photo of me at the plate:

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Same result:
Damp balls.
Too high.
Good swings.
Totally rushed.
Decent contact.
No homers.
Major frustration.

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It was exhilarating to get to take BP on a major league field, and
while it certainly went down as I expected, it wasn’t anything like
what I’d dreamt of so many times. In my own personal FantasyLand, I
have a stadium all to myself. The grass is dry. It’s 82
degrees. Leon Feingold is pitching BP fastballs to me with pearls, and of course I’m hitting the crap out of them.

Former big league pitcher Rick Reuschel was hanging around near the batting cage. He and I talked for a minute and then had our picture taken.

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(In my next life, I’m going to be 6-foot-7.)

Here I am with a gentleman named Nick Pelescak: 

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Nick is:

1) a friend of Erik’s
2) a Pirates season ticket holder
3) the owner of the metal bat I’d used
4) a member of the Ballhawk League
5) a good ballplayer
6) a great guy

As you can see in the photo above, Nick brought his copy of Watching Baseball Smarter for me to sign…which I did…with an extra big smile because it was the most worn-out/well-appreciated copy of the book that I’d ever seen. Nick told me he’d read it several times and underlined his favorite parts, which turned out to be half the stuff in it. Check out this two-page spread in the “Umpires” chapter:

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The whole book looked like that.

It was lunchtime. Our two-hour session on the field had ended.

We entertained ourselves at the speed-pitch booth:

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In the photo above, that’s me on the left, Nick on the right, and Nick’s younger brother Bryan in the middle. Bryan (who’s just 16 years old) threw the fastest pitch of the day at 73mph.

Then it was time to eat:

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And then we wandered back down to the field:

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Thanks to a not-so-secret loophole in the system, we all got to head back onto the field. Here I am, waiting for my turn to hit:

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See the batting glove I’m wearing in the photo above? On this fine day in Pittsburgh, I decided to use Jeromy Burnitz’s batting gloves — the ones he tossed to me in 2004 at Shea Stadium. (Here’s my whole collection of batting gloves, in case you care.)

There were a dozen helmets lying around next to the cage…

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…and none of them fit.

These were some of the bats:

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I took my eight swings with Nick’s metal bat…

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…and finished up with Jose Bautista’s wood bat. No homers. But I hit some deep fly balls and got a compliment from former Pirate John Wehner. Here I am with him:

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Wehner said that even HE wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run with such bad balls. (I wish I had a photo of the balls, but since I don’t, let me just say this: the worst ball that you could possibly catch during BP at a major league game would be better than any ball I was invited to hit at PNC Park.) He might’ve just been saying that to make me feel better…but then again, he did only hit four career homers in the big leagues…but no, it was nice to hear.

Brandon and I wandered out to the bullpens. Here I am on the mound:

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Here I am on the bench:

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Here’s a sign that was on the wall out there:

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Here I am clowning around on the warning track (robbing a…double?) with Bryan looking on:

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Brandon and my mom and I were going to have to leave for the airport soon, so I spent my remaining time catching fly balls from the pitching machine.

Here I am getting ready to catch one:

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Here I am losing my footing on another:

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(We were not allowed to wear spikes or cleats.)

I failed to catch that particular ball and ended up like this:

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Good times!

Here’s one final photo of me and mom before we headed out:

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are awesome for letting their season ticket holders take over the field for a day. By comparison, the New York Mets “rewarded” their season ticket holders by letting
them run the bases (for 20 seconds) after the final game of the season.

I have to end this entry with a BIG thank you to Erik for giving me the opportunity to do this. Check out his blog. He should have an entry up about it soon. Also…thanks to Brandon for taking all the photos.

10/4/09 at Citi Field

This was the final game of the regular season, and I was there for one reason only: to snag a piece of equipment after the game at the winning team’s dugout. There was no guarantee that this would happen, but since it WAS the last day, I knew that the players would be extra generous.

Unfortunately, since it was a day game and both teams were mailing it in, there was no batting practice…BUT…the lack of action did give me a chance to hang out with half a dozen of my fellow ballhawks:

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Pictured from left to right: Conner (whom I met on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium), Joe (a former Watch With Zack client who combined to snag 22 balls with me on 5/8/09 at Citi Field), Alex (whom I met at Game 4 of the 2008 World Series), me, another Alex (who you might remember from 8/17/09 at Citi Field), Ross (another Watch With Zack client who snagged four different types of balls on 9/23/09 at Citi Field), and Clif (who first attended a game with me on 9/25/07 at Shea Stadium). I knew all these guys pretty well, so it was good to catch up with them.

We were all so frustrated at the lack of BP that we posed for a second photo in which we pretended to punch each other…

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…except for Clif (in the red hat). Somehow he escaped unscathed.

There was NO action on the field for the first hour, so we all wandered into the area behind the center field scoreboard and took some swings in the batting cage. Here’s a two-part photo of me in which I’m a) settling into my stance and b) unleashing a furious swing (at a 30mph pitch):

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I hadn’t swung a bat for quite some time, and since I had plans to take BP on the field at PNC Park two days later, this was a valuable tune-up.

Yes, you read that right: I’m going to be taking BP on a major league field on Tuesday, October 6th, and I owe it all to Erik Jabs. I’ll be sharing the details/photos after it happens. I think that’ll be my next blog entry, but there’s so much stuff going on right now that I’m not even sure what to write about next. But anyway…

A few Mets pitchers finally came out and started playing catch in right field. The front row along the foul line got so crowded that I headed up to the second deck…

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…but no one tossed any balls to me.

Half an hour later, ONE Astros player came out to play catch (with some random strength coach guy) on the left field side. It was a relief pitcher named Samuel Gervacio, and as soon as he finished, he began walking toward me with the ball in his hand:

5_zack_before_snagging_ball4344.jpg

At that point, I was concerned about getting shut out, and there weren’t any other players in sight, so my heart sank when he ended up tossing the ball to someone else.

BUT…

He then pulled another ball out of his back pocket and kept walking toward the stands and eventually tossed it right to me.

Here are two photos of the ball:

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Some teams have tried marking their baseballs so their employees won’t steal them and get them signed; the Astros have been marking their balls with an “H” for as long as I can remember.

I was already wearing my Astros gear by the time I got the ball from Gervacio, and so were most of my snagging companions. In the photo below, not one person is an actual Astros fan:

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Sorry, Houston.
Nothing personal.

A few minutes later, someone asked me how many balls I’d snagged this season, and when I said, “Five hundred and twenty-four,” Brandon took a photo that captured a nearby woman’s reaction.

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Right before the game started, Chris Johnson (wearing No. 23 in the photo below) and several other Astros played catch in shallow left field:

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I got Johnson to throw me the ball when they were done.

Ready for a totally random/worthless statistic? This was the 11th guy named Johnson to have thrown me a ball. The other 10 are: Ben, Brian, Howard, Jason, Jonathan, Kelly, Mark P., Nick, Reed, and Russ. What’s YOUR record for the most players/coaches with the same last name to have given you a ball? (For the complete list of everyone who’s ever thrown me a ball, click here.)

For the first few innings, while I was making unsuccessful attempts to snag a 3rd-out ball behind the Astros’ dugout, Brandon was taking action shots (like the one below) of the game itself:

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The batter in the photo above is Mets rookie catcher Josh Thole. He entered the game batting .286 (14-for-49) and went 3-for-4 to finish the season at .321. Nicely done.

Mets left fielder Angel Pagan had an even better day, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple, but the best performance belonged to starting pitcher (and super-nice guy) Nelson Figueroa. Entering the final day with a hard-luck record of 2-8 and an ERA of 4.70, he pitched the first complete game of his career — a four-hit shutout with no walks — as the Mets beat the Astros, 4-0.

Lots of fans had homemade signs. This was the best one:

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As for me…

It took a major effort just to make it down into the front row behind the Mets’ dugout, and once I got there, I wasn’t too hopeful. I was trapped in the middle of the section, in between the two entrances to the dugout, which meant I wasn’t going to be standing directly in front of the players as they walked off the field. Still, I stayed alert and kept looking out in front of me to pick up on any possible opportunity. Several players flung their caps into the crowd 20 feet to my right. Then I saw a few balls get tossed as well as some batting gloves, but I wasn’t close to any of it, and it was killing me. Ten seconds later, I noticed that Angel Pagan was veering toward my end of the dugout and looking up into the crowd, so I took off my cap and made a frisbee-throwing gesture with it. I was trying to indicate that I wanted him to throw HIS cap to me…and it worked! But he flung it way over my head. When the cap first left his hand, it looked like it was going to reach the sixth row, but then, somehow, thankfully, just like a frisbee that gets thrown up at an angle, it started slicing back down toward me, and I jumped for it:

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It’s easy to spot me in the photo above because I’m the only person who appears blurry. While everyone else was simply reaching (and pushing) for the cap, I was the only person who actually jumped for it. (What a concept!) As you can see, I was wearing my glove on my left hand and holding my own cap in my right hand. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to catch Pagan’s twirling cap in my glove and then be able to hold onto it, but I had no other choice. I *had* to try to catch it that way…and it worked! I caught the damn cap IN my glove and then immediately brought it down to my chest and hugged it tightly. One second later, after I had transferred Pagan’s cap to my right hand, the guy standing next to me tried to snatch it, but I had a death-grip on it. There was no way anyone was going to steal it, and I offered the guy a few choice words.

Here’s a look at the cap:

13_angel_pagan_cap.jpg

As you can see, the Citi Field commemorative logo is on the outside, and Pagan’s uniform number is written on the inside. Coolness. It was the fourth cap I’d ever gotten and the first with a commemorative logo. You can see the other caps here.

Here’s one final photo that shows me with everything I snagged at this game:

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Ooh yeah, that’s right, I also got a little sumpin’-sumpin’ during the 5th-inning T-shirt launch. I haven’t kept track of all the T-shirts I’ve snagged, but I’m pretty sure that number is in the double digits.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 525 balls in 58 games this season = 9.05 balls per game.

• 627 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 487 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 351 consecutive Mets games with at least one ball

• 4,345 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $50.52 raised at this game

• $13,261.50 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

One thing about the charity (since people have been asking)…

It’s not too late to make a pledge. There’s a good chance that I’ll be snagging a few more balls this post-season, so hold onto your donations until the end of the World Series, and then I’ll email you with some very easy instructions about how to pay. You’ll have the option of using a credit card on the Pitch In For Baseball web site OR mailing them a check. Either way, your money will never be in my possession.

Stay tuned for some BIG stuff over the next week. PNC Park is just the beginning…

9/30/09 at Nationals Park

This was the Nationals’ final home game of 2009 — a 4:35pm start — and my friend Brandon was there with his fancy camera…

When we first ran into the stadium at 2:05pm, all the Nationals players were stretching in right field, yet batting practice WAS taking place. There was some type of bonus round of BP for Nationals employees, and as you can imagine, most of them were terrible hitters. One guy, however, was good enough to reach the warning track, even with the crappy training balls that were being used, and I ended up getting two them tossed to me. The first came from a ballboy near the foul pole, and the second came from a coach named Jose Martinez who was shagging in straight-away left field. In the following photo, the horizontal arrow is pointing to me as I reached out to catch my second ball, and the vertical arrow is pointing to Martinez:

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My third ball of the day was a ground-rule double — hit by the random/talented employee — that barely cleared the railing and landed in the third row. There was only one other fan who was close enough to go for it, but he didn’t move until the ball was already in the seats, so I was able to beat him to it.

Without any warning or any break in the action, Adam Dunn stepped into the cage so I raced over to the right field seats. Moments later, a ball rolled onto the warning track in right-center, and I convinced a different random employee to toss it up. Brandon was still in left field at that point, but he had his camera aimed at me and got the following photo of the ball in mid-air:

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In this photo (which you can click for a closer look), the arrow pointing up shows the ball, and the arrow pointing down shows me. The guy who tossed it was moving to his left at the time, so it looks as if the ball is heading toward the other fan in the front row, but I assure you that’s not the case.

Marquis Grissom tossed me my fifth ball of the day in straight-away right field, and then 10 seconds later, he saw me catch a Dunn homer on the fly. I was standing on the staircase, six rows back. The ball came right to me. I made a two-handed catch. It was embarrassingly easy, and by the way, every single one of these balls was a training ball.

adam_dunn_2009.jpgMy seventh ball of the day was thrown by Marco Estrada, and my eighth was another Dunn homer. I had to run about 15 feet to my right for it, and then as the ball was descending, I climbed back over a row (in the middle of the section) and reached over my head to make a back-handed catch. A gloveless man behind me complained that I’d already gotten a ball. I responded by offering to give him the one I’d just caught, but he didn’t want it.

“Give it to a kid instead,” he said.

You have no idea how much I do for kids,” I replied, but the guy clearly wasn’t interested in anything I had to say, so I let it go and moved on and continued to put on a snagging clinic.

(For the record, there was only one other kid in the section, and he’d already gotten a ball. It was one of those days where the players were being generous. Basically, everyone who asked for a ball got one.)

Saul Rivera threw me ball No. 9, and he did it as if he were turning a double play. He had Victor Garate throw him the ball, and as he caught it he made an imaginary pivot (as if he were a second baseman) and then fired it in my direction.

I looked at the clock. It was only 2:24pm. The stadium had been open for 19 minutes. Oh my God. I wasn’t just thinking about reaching the 20-ball plateau; I was thinking about what it would take to snag 30 and possibly even break my one-game record of 32. Meanwhile, Brandon finally made it out to the right field seats and got a cool shot of me catching my 10th ball of the day:

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It was thrown by Livan Hernandez from the foul line, and as you can see in the photo above, there weren’t a whole lot of kids in the stands. Even the guy in the red jacket got a ball thrown to him. I’m telling you…there were PLENTY of balls to go around, and as a result, I was truly heading for the game of my life.

But guess what happened next…

Here, let me show you:

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That’s right. It wasn’t even raining, and the grounds crew decided to (leisurely) roll out the tarp.

Unbelievable.

The good news is that there were several balls sitting in the left field bullpen, and I was able to use my glove trick to reel in one of them. The following three-part photo (which you absolutely HAVE to click) shows how it played out:

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The ball was sitting underneath the overhang, so I had to swing my glove out and back in order to knock the ball out into the open. As you can see in the photo on the left, the the string angled back at the bottom of the Harris Teeter ad. The photo in the middle shows two important things (in addition to the ball itself): 1) my awesome farmer’s tan and 2) the glove being being propped open by the Sharpie. The photo on the right shows me reaching for the ball. I’m always paranoid that the ball will fall out at the last second, but it rarely does. The key is not to panic — not to rush — while raising the glove. I just try to keep lifting it up steadily.

In the middle photo up above, do you see the man in the light gray vest jacket? While I was carefully lifting up my glove, he said, “Excuse me, but your last name isn’t Hample by any chance, is it?”

I told him it was, and he told me that he owned a copy of my second book (Watching Baseball Smarter) and that his eight-year-old son loved it and that they actually had it with them and that they’d been hoping to get it signed…so of course I signed it as soon as I was done using my glove trick, and then I posed for a photo with his son. When I changed into my Mets gear soon after, three other kids recognized me and asked me to sign their baseballs. Here’s the autograph session in progress…

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…and here we are with the balls:

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Five minutes later, several Mets players and coaches walked out to the bullpen and tossed the remaining balls into the crowd. I got one of them from Sandy Alomar Jr.

Then it started raining, and for some reason, someone in the bullpen tossed a ball into left field. The arrow in the following photo is pointing to it:

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I found out later that the ball had been used by Pat Misch during his bullpen session, and that when it started raining, it slipped out of his hand and sailed high above the catcher and hit a railing and ricocheted sideways all the way onto the field. Of course I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t ended up snagging it. Randy Niemann eventually tossed it to me while walking in from the bullpen:

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Abe Lincoln was not impressed:

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It got sunny again by 4pm, and with the game set to start on time, I headed to the seats near the Mets’ bullpen. There was lots of activity out there. It just seemed like the place to be. Bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello was warming up Tim Redding in left field. Omir Santos was playing catch with Alomar on the warning track. Several relievers were standing around with baseballs in their hands. Ken Takahashi tossed a ball to the kid on my right. Then Brian Stokes (who has recently gotten to know me) spotted me and tossed me the ball that he was holding. Here I am reaching out for it:

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In the photo above, Stokes is the guy who’s standing still and cradling his glove against his chest.

Another thing about the photo above…

On the left side, you can barely see a catcher sitting down. He’s mostly chopped out of the picture, but just above the red flowers and the green edge of the outfield wall, you can see his black shin guard curling up over his knee. Right? Well, that was Santos, and when he headed into the bullpen one minute later, I leaned over the side railing and asked him for his ball in Spanish:

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This was the result:

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He flipped it up directly from his glove. It was my 15th ball of day. It had a Citi Field commemorative logo on it. Yay.

Josh Thole and Nelson Figueroa started signing autographs along the 3rd base line, so I headed over there and got them both. Thole signed my September 30th ticket, and Figueroa signed one from the previous day. Here I am after getting Thole…

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…and here are the autographs themselves:

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Right after the national anthem, David Wright tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout:

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I was tempted to stay behind the dugout and go for 3rd-out balls — I only needed four more balls to reach 20 — but the temptation to catch a home run was even greater, so I headed back out to left field. Here’s where I sat:

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I had empty rows on both sides. There were very few fans with gloves. The circumstances were ideal. But of course nothing came anywhere near me.

Halfway through the game, when Nationals starter John Lannan came to bat, I noticed a statistical oddity on the scoreboard. Can you spot it? I’ll tell you what it is after the photo:

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His on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage, which means that over the course of the season, he’d collected more walks (two) than extra bases via hits (one).

In the middle of the 7th inning, I got my 17th ball of the day from a Mets reliever in the bullpen, and I’m ashamed to admit that I couldn’t identify him. I think it was either Tobi Stoner or Lance Broadway, but I’ll never know for sure.

In the bottom of the 9th inning, Brandon and I moved to the third row behind the Nationals’ dugout. This was our view:

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Francisco Rodriguez was pitching. The Mets had a 4-2 lead. The left side of my brain (or maybe it was the right) figured he’d nail down the save. The right side of my brain (or maybe it was the left) figured he’d blow the game. Either way, I was convinced that the Nationals’ dugout was the place to be. As I mentioned at the top of this entry, it was the Nats’ final home game of the season; I thought the players might be extra generous and throw some bonus items into the crowd.

Alberto Gonzalez led off the bottom of the 9th with an infield single. Then Mike Morse was called upon to pinch hit and took a called first strike. The second pitch was a 55-footer. Omir Santos blocked it and handed it to Kerwin Danley, the home plate umpire. Danley inspected it and handed it to the ballboy, who’d jogged out with a supply of fresh baseballs. As the ballboy returned to the dugout with the scuffed ball, I simply stood up and made eye contact with him and flapped my glove, and he tossed it to me. (HA!!!) Four pitches later, Morse ripped a ground ball single up the middle. Willie Harris followed with a sacrifice bunt and Elijah Dukes walked on a full count to justin_maxwell_2009.jpgload the bases. Ryan Zimmerman came up next and struck out on three pitches. There were two outs. The Mets were still winning, 4-2. The bases were still loaded, and then Adam Dunn walked on another full count. This forced in a run and trimmed the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Justin Maxwell, who had entered the game as a pinch runner in the 8th inning and remained in center field as a defensive replacement, stepped up to the plate. He took the first pitch for a ball and then watched the next two pitches zip by for called strikes. The fourth pitch was a ball. The count was even at 2-2. Then he fouled off the fifth pitch and took the sixth to bring the count to 3-2. Everyone in the stadium knew that Rodriguez was going to throw a fastball; the right-handed Maxwell, however, was so geeked up that he swung too soon and yanked a monstrous drive over the 3rd base dugout. On the next pitch — another 3-2 fastball — he swung too late and lifted a foul pop-up into the seats on the 1st base side. It was the most exciting at-bat I had ever seen in my life, and on the following pitch — the 9th pitch of the battle — Maxwell’s timing was perfect. He centered the ball and launched it into the flower bed in left field for a walk-off grand slam:

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Final score: Nationals 7, Mets 4.

Wow.

After all the celebrating and shaving-creaming was done, the Nationals DID toss a bunch of stuff into the crowd. They must’ve thrown 100 T-shirts (leftovers from the T-shirt launch) and two dozen balls. One player (not sure who) threw his batting gloves over the dugout. Incredibly, I didn’t get any of it. Not one damn thing. It was quite a letdown, but obviously I was still happy about the overall outcome of the day — that is, until Brandon and I made it back outside and walked to the parking lot. I’ll show you what I’m talking about after the stats…

SNAGGING STATS:

23_the_seventeen_i_kept_09_30_09.jpg• 18 balls at this game (17 pictured here because I gave one away after the game)

• 523 balls in 57 games this season = 9.18 balls per game.

• 626 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 180 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 120 lifetime games with at least ten balls

• 4,343 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $454.68 raised at this game

• $13,210.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

As I was saying, the parking lot…

When I parked my parents’ gray Volvo there earlier in the day, it was in perfect condition, and when I returned eight hours later, it looked like this:

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That’s me in the photo above, crouching down to assess the damage while holding a cell phone up to my ear and telling my dad about it.

Someday — SOME day — I’m going to attend a game at Nationals Park and have everything go smoothly…

9/29/09 at Nationals Park

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This was the third time I’d ever been to Nationals Park, and it was the third time that something went wrong. This time? I took a wrong turn and got stuck in traffic and missed the first 20 minutes of batting practice. I would’ve missed even more if not for my friend Brandon and girlfriend Jona. They were with me, and when we got close to the stadium, they agreed to park the car (not an easy task in Washington, D.C.) so I could run in and try to make up for lost time. I was totally out of breath by the time I made it to the left field seats, and then when I realized that the left-handed Adam Dunn was taking his cuts, I sprinted around to the right field side. Here’s what it looked like out there:

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Thirty seconds after arriving, I got Justin Maxwell to throw me a ball in right-center field. Then I hurried back to the other end of the section and convinced Ron Villone to toss me another…so at least I wasn’t shut out. Ten minutes earlier, while stuck in traffic and biting the crap out of my fingernails, I figured I’d be able to salvage the day and snag a decent amount of balls, but then again, every worst-case scenario still found its way into my head. Anyway, after getting the ball from Villone, I took a peek into the gap behind the outfield wall — just in case – and this is what I saw:

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Out-STANDING!

I crouched down in the front row (to avoid drawing extra attention to myself) and set up my glove trick, and within moments I had the ball in my possession. It was my third ball of the day, and they were all training balls:

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I hate training balls. They’re cheap and plasticky. It’s no wonder that the worst team in baseball uses them, but hey, I wasn’t about to stop snagging.

A few minutes later, Adam Dunn launched a home run that landed 15 feet to my right and three rows behind me. I was able to grab that ball out of the seats, and then I raced down to the front row as Zack Segovia retrieved a ball from the warning track.

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“Hey, Zack!” I shouted. “My name is Zack, too, and I have ID to prove it! Any chance you could toss me a ball, please?!”

I was already reaching for my driver’s license, but he didn’t ask to see it. Instead, he simply smiled and flipped the ball up to me.

My next ball was tossed by Garrett Mock, and I wouldn’t have gotten it if not for a fellow ballhawk named Aaron (aka “districtboy” in the comments section). Aaron happened to get into a conversation with Mock, and I happened to hear him mention my name, so I headed closer to see what was going on.

“You guys talking about me?” I asked.

“This is the guy,” said Aaron, pointing me out to Mock.

Mocked looked over at me and said something like, “So, what’s the deal with your charity?”

That’s when Brandon and Jona showed up and started taking photos of me. (Brandon is a professional photographer and had two cameras with him.) Here’s a shot of Mock looking up:

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He and I talked for a couple minutes. I told him all about the charity and how I’ve been getting people to pledge money for every ball I snag during the 2009 season, and I mentioned that Heath Bell had made a pledge and that I’d raised over $12,000 and that the money was going to be used to provide baseball equipment to needy kids all over the world. Mock was interested enough that he asked if I had any additional info. I tossed one of my contact cards down to him, and he tossed a training ball up to me. (That was my sixth ball of the day, and yes, all of them were training balls.) He then thanked me and said he’d try to help out by mentioning the charity to the Nationals’ P.R. people.

I then had my picture taken with Aaron:

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(In case you’re new to this blog, I’m on the left.)

My seventh ball of the day was a home run by Mike Morse. I had to climb down over a couple rows while the ball was in mid-air, but I didn’t quite reach the front row in time so the ball tipped off my glove. Luckily, it didn’t ricochet too far away, and since there wasn’t anyone standing near me, I was able to grab it.

Moments later, Segovia tossed another ball into the seats that landed one section away and began trickling down the steps. I raced over and picked it up and immediately realized that the ball had been intended for a kid in the front row, so I opened up my glove and let the kid reach into the pocket and grab it. The kid seemed a bit dazed by the whole situation, but his parents were very thankful.

By the time the Mets took the field at 5:30pm, I already had eight balls. I’d been planning to head over to left field at that point, but it was far less crowded in right field so I stayed put.

nelson_figueroa_2009.jpgSomeone on the Mets hit a ball that rolled to the wall in right-center. Nelson Figueroa walked over to retrieve it, so I asked him if he “could please toss the ball up.” Figueroa did toss it up, but it fell short and landed back on the warning track.

“Nelson!” I shouted. “Please, one more try!”

Once again, he tossed the ball straight up and it fell just beyond my reach.

Brandon was in left field at that point, and he took a photo that captured the ball in mid air. Check it out:

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(Don’t forget that you can click all these photos for a closer look. Also, FYI, I had changed into my blue Mets gear by this point.)

After the second bad throw, I realized that Figueroa was messing with me, so I asked, “Could you please toss the ball up TO ME?!”

“Ohh!” he said with a big grin, “To you?! Sure, why didn’t you say that? Before, you just asked me to ‘toss it up.’” And then, sure enough, he tossed the ball to me. It was my first non-training ball of the day.

Meanwhile, the sun was brutal. It wasn’t directly over home plate, but it was still pretty tough to see:

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I was one ball short of double digits, and I ended up getting No. 10 from Brian Stokes. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to him just before he threw it…

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…and here’s a shot of the ball in mid-air:

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I snagged two more balls in the next five minutes. The first was a Mets homer that landed in the wide open area behind the center field wall. It was tossed up to me by some random employee who was hanging out back there. The second was another Mets homer (not sure who hit it) that I caught on the fly. I made a lunging catch over the railing in the front row after climbing over two rows of seats, so I felt pretty good. It was redemption for the Mike Morse homer that had tipped off my glove earlier under similar circumstances.

I had 12 balls at that point, which brought my season total to 499. I walked over to Jona at the back of the section and told her that she HAD to get a photo of my next ball.

“Please don’t miss it,” I implored, and as the word “don’t” came out of my mouth, she took the following photo:

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She was like, “Yeah yeah, I’ll get a photo,” but that didn’t comfort me. I was about to snag my 500th ball of the season, and I wanted it to be well documented. What made me relax was knowing that one of our three cameras was bound to capture the milestone moment. Here’s a three-part pic that shows Jona (on the left) and me (middle) and Brandon (right):

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We were good to go, and then I had my chance…

Bobby Parnell was shagging balls in center field and accidentally let a grounder slip under his glove. The ball rolled back toward the wall and then trickled into the wide open space behind it. I raced over to take a look…

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…and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon ran after me (with a baseball glove on his left hand).

Thankfully, there were different guys down in the open space this time, so I didn’t have to worry about being recognized. One of the guys got the ball and then when I asked him for it, he started walking toward me. In the following photo, you can see the guy with the ball in his left hand, and you can also see what that whole area looks like:

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The guy’s first throw fell short. That was probably a good thing. It gave Brandon a couple extra seconds to move up against the railing with me. Then the ball was tossed up for a second time. The throw was right on the money, and I reached out for the easy catch:

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Perfect!

YESSSSSS!!!

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I caught another home run on the fly soon after. It was hit by a lefty. I have no idea who. It was my 14th ball of the day. It pretty much came right to me.

Then, with batting practice winding down, I ran back to the left field side and got Mets coach Razor Shines to toss me a ball near the foul pole. The arrow in the following photo is pointing at the ball:

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I didn’t know it at the time, but when I updated my stats later on, I discovered that this was the 4,000th ball I’d snagged since my consecutive games streak began on September 10, 1993. That’s kind of a random stat, but I think it’s cool. Also…this was the 625th game of my streak, which means I’ve been averaging 6.4 balls per game.

My 16th ball of the day was thrown by Pedro Feliciano. Nothing special there. I was standing near the Mets’ bullpen. He walked over to pick up a ball off the warning track. I asked him for it and expected to get dissed because he’s not exactly the most fan-friendly player in the majors, but to my surprise, he turned and chucked it to me. (So I guess that IS special.)

I wasn’t done…

David Wright launched a home run into the left field bullpen, and the ball happened to settle in the perfect spot for my glove trick. Here’s a shot that Jona took…

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…and here’s a shot that Brandon took at that same exact moment from across the stadium:

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A nearby Mets fan saw me use the glove trick and responded with a gesture as if to say “We’re not worthy!”

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At the very end of batting practice, after all the Mets players and coaches left the field, there was a ball sitting on the warning track near the foul pole. I ran over and tried using my glove trick to knock it closer, but a groundskeeper wandered out and picked up the ball before I had a chance. I asked him for it, and when he looked up and saw me decked out in Mets gear, he said, “You’re wearing the wrong clothes.” He then pointed to the little kid next to me and tossed him the ball, but guess what? The ball sailed over the kid’s head, and I ended up catching it. I didn’t reach in front of him. I had stepped back so that he’d be able to experience the rush of getting the ball on his own. It was a total accident that the ball found its way into my hands, and I immediately turned it over to the kid.

It was 6:25pm. The game was going to start at 7:05pm. What happened next? Brandon and Jona and I left the stadium (I gave away another ball to a kid on the way out), and we never looked back. This was all part of the plan, but it’s not the end of this blog entry, so keep reading past the stats…

SNAGGING STATS:

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• 18 balls at this game (15 pictured on the right because I gave three of them away)

• 505 balls in 56 games this season = 9.02 balls per game.

• 625 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 150 consecutive games with at least two balls

• 179 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 119 lifetime games with at least ten balls

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• 4,325 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (one more month remaining to make a pledge)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $454.68 raised at this game

• $12,756.30 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

Okay, so, as I was saying, we left the stadium:

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We jumped in the car and set out on a 13-mile drive that ended up taking 90 minutes! Traffic in D.C. was a true nightmare, especially for Brandon because he lives for music, and we were on our way to a concert. Isn’t life funny? Less than four hours earlier, I was stressed out of my skull because I was missing batting practice. Now it was Brandon’s turn to freak out about missing Muse play the opening act.

By the time we reached our destination, it was dark:

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Can you tell where we were? Look closely at the photo above, and you’ll see a small “REDSKINS” sign on the light pole. That’s right, we were at FedEx Field for a huge huge HUGE concert. Traffic outside the stadium (in case you couldn’t tell from the last photo) was insane. I mean, it wrapped all the way around the place and then snaked around endless/temporary barricades in various parking lots that had been set up just for this event. Jona and I agreed to park the car so Brandon could run in and try to catch the first part of the show.

Finally, by like 8:30pm, Jona and I made it into the stadium and met up with Brandon. We walked through a VERY crowded concourse and eventually headed out through one of the tunnels. This was our first glimpse inside the seating bowl — and of the stage:

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What the hell?!

Did you ever see anything like that? It reminded me of the huge alien-monsters in “War of the Worlds.” I was almost afraid to go near it, but in fact we were about to go very near.

Are you wondering what concert we went to? Who we went to see? The answer lies at the top of this ticket stub:

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Yup, U2.

I’d never seen them in concert before, but that’s not saying much; I’d only been to a handful of concerts in my life, and they were all small shows, so this was quite an experience.

23_fedex_field_seating_chart.jpgTake another look at the ticket. See where it has the date? See right underneath it where it says “GENADM”?

Want to see where our general admission tickets put us?

Take a look at the FedEx seating chart here on the right (courtesy of StubHub).

See the red section that says “FLOOR GA”?

That’s where we were. It was a huge standing-room-only section right down ON the actual field itself. Well…we weren’t standing on the grass. There was a floor that’d been built for everyone to stand on, but it was still great to be down there. If we’d gotten there earlier, we could’ve rushed right up to the front, but because I’d selfishly insisted on stopping at Nationals Park for batting practice, we had to settle for being about 100 feet away from the main part of the stage.

Here I am in front of the big freaky structure:

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Did you notice that I was making “U” and “2″ symbols with my hands?

We moved as close as we could just in time for the main part of the show, and then…

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Wow.

U2 was on the stage.

Bono himself was close enough that I could’ve thrown a baseball to him had he asked.

The name of this tour was the “360 Tour” because of the circular stage and venues. The circular video screen was amazing. The lighting was cool. Everything was cool. Here are four different shots I took during the show (with my rinky-dink camera that I smuggled inside). In the photo on the lower left, all the little lights are cell phones that people help up at Bono’s urging:

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It was truly an extravaganza. Was it worth leaving Nationals Park early and giving up a guaranteed 20-ball performance? Sure, why not. It was my own stupid wrong turn that cost me the 20 minutes of BP at the beginning, and I kept thinking about that throughout the show. But the show WAS good. I’m not a concert expert, so I don’t even know how to write about it. I only have five U2 songs on my iPod, and I was just glad to hear a few of them. I was bummed, though, that my favorite U2 song wasn’t played, but I wasn’t surprised because no one else in the world seems to know it or like it. It’s called “In a Little While,” and I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. (For the record, I have 139 Beatles songs on my iPod. I gravitate toward older music in general, but what would you expect from someone who didn’t own a cell phone until 2007 and still isn’t on Facebook?) Anyway, for me, this whole concert experience wasn’t about the music. It was just about being there and experiencing it with two great friends and simply witnessing the magnitude of it all.

Here’s some more Bono action:

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After the show, when the general admission area began clearing out, we walked up to the edge of the stage:

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We couldn’t get any closer than that because of the barricade, which you can see in the photo below. Also in the following photo: three cameramen suspended from some sort of diagonal beam. (The correct terminology is escaping me, but you get the point.) The red arrow is pointing to the cameraman in the middle:

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I kept thinking about how many people had to be employed to put on the show and build the stage and how long it took and how much it all cost and how much money U2 makes for each show. If only there were a book called “Watching Concerts Smarter.” I also tried to guess how many people had been in attendance. According to the FexEd Field page on Wikipedia, the stadium holds over 91,000 people. I assume that figure doen’t include the field itself. The seats were basically full except for a few rows at the very top of the upper deck. So how many general admission tickets were sold? Were there over 100,000 people altogether?!

Here’s one final photo of me on the field/floor:

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The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way out, mainly because we lingered inside the stadium for about an hour. Then we drove back to our hotel and ate a huge, fattening meal at 1am. It was the perfect end to an unforgettable day.

9/28/09 at Yankee Stadium

There was rain in the forecast.
I didn’t really want to go to the game.
But my friend Brandon was visiting from San Diego.
He wanted to check out the new stadium.
So we went.

Thankfully, when we ran inside at 4pm, we saw that the field was set up for batting practice. Unfortunately, as I predicted, the Yankees didn’t start hitting until 4:40, so there was a lot of time to kill. This is how we spent a portion of it:

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That’s right. We were shown on the Jumbotron, and as you can see in the photo above, Brandon was ready with his camera.

Brandon is always ready, it seems.

Here’s another shot he took — probably my favorite photo of the day — during the lull before BP got underway. It shows me walking through an empty row of seats:

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Brandon had forgotten to bring his baseball glove, so I lent him one before we left my place. Big mistake. He ended up using it to rob me of a home run during the first round of BP, and then he rubbed it in my face for the next 15 minutes.

I had a few close calls early on, but nothing was working out in my favor, and for a while, I was concerned about getting shut out. The sky was already dark gray, and I knew that BP could get wiped out at any moment.

Eventually, after about 25 minutes of BP, some lefty on the Yankees (not sure who) launched a home run 30 feet to my right. I immediately took off running through an empty row and caught it back-handed, reaching high over my head at the far end of the section. Here’s a photo of me walking back toward Brandon with the ball in my right hand:

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The Yankees stopped hitting at 5:10pm. (Fabulous.) There was more time to kill, so I changed into my Royals gear and headed over to the left field foul line. Five minutes later, the Royals came out and started throwing, and when Willie Bloomquist finished up, I got him to toss me his ball. In the following photo, the red arrow is pointing to the ball streaking toward me:

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By the time the Royals started hitting, there were a few raindrops falling.

Three minutes later?

The rain intensified and batting practice was done.

As the players and coaches cleared the field, I raced to the seats behind the 3rd base dugout and arrived just in time to get some random equipment guy to throw me a ball. That made me feel a little better, but I was still disappointed.

The following two-part photo shows everything that happened for the next three hours:

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Fun, huh?

Right before the game started, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alberto Callaspo began playing catch in front of the 3rd base dugout. I worked my way as close to them as possible and got Callaspo to throw me the ball when they finished. In the following photo (which Brandon took from several sections over), the horizontal arrow is pointing at Callaspo, the arrow pointing up shows the ball in mid-air, and the arrow pointing down shows me getting ready to catch it:

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That was my fourth ball of the day. Not terrible for a game at Yankee Stadium with only 30 minutes of BP instead of 90.

The rain, I must admit, ended up working in my favor because it chased lots of people away. I’d decided to sit out in right field during the game (regardless of the weather) so now that I had some empty seats to work with, I was excited at the possibilities.

I wasn’t excited enough, however, to smile in the following photo:

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I nearly caught Ramiro Pena’s first major league home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. It was hit RIGHT in my direction, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I jumped up and held my ground on the staircase, 100 percent sure that it was going to sail right to me in the fifth row, but then it died a bit (perhaps because the air was cold and damp) so I began to drift down the stairs, but then I got blocked by a cotton candy vendor at the last second, and it was over. The ball bounced off the bare hands of a man in the front row, and I still would’ve had it if it’d deflected back instead of sideways. It was frustrating, to say the least, but I didn’t blame myself. Watch any major league outfielder react to a fly ball hit right at him and he’ll do the same thing: he’ll hold his ground for a moment and THEN start drifting once he determines where it’s going to land, so whatever. The guy who ended up snagging that ball graciously tossed it into the bullpen when the relievers asked for it. In exchange, they tossed back another ball, and get this…it wasn’t signed, and it wasn’t even commemorative. It was just a standard Selig ball, and when the guy got it, he wasn’t too happy. To his credit, he stayed calm and simply asked the guys in the bullpen to autograph it. Once he got the go-ahead, he tossed the ball back, and it was returned to him five minutes later with the autographs of EVERYONE who was out there — at least a dozen guys — including Mariano Rivera. Very cool.

Anyway, the reason why I’m not throwing a fit right now (while writing this) is because of what happened a couple innings later. It was the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees, already winning 4-2, loaded the bases with nobody out against Royals starter Luke Hochevar. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate, and I told Brandon that I was going to catch a grand slam. I was already sitting one row behind him so that I’d have as much room as possible to run. My row had about 10 empty seats to my right, and the row behind me was almost totally empty. I had my whole route planned in case Cano happened to launch one to my right: I was going to start running and then climb back over a row (while the ball was in mid-air) and then keep running toward the far end of the section, or as far as I needed to go. And that’s exactly what happened. Cano turned on an 0-1 pitch and lifted a high, deep fly ball to my right. As soon as it left the bat, I knew that it was going to be a home run, and I knew that I had a chance to get near it…wherever it happened to land. I didn’t bother looking up at the ball at first. I just kept my head down and focused on not bumping into anyone or anything. As I approached the far end of the section, my hat got knocked off as I looked up for the ball:

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You can see the hat falling in the photo above. See the pole that’s covering the letter “o” in the word “York” on the red advertisement? My hat is right below the bottom of that pole, but anyway, I panicked when the ball sailed directly over my head toward a fan standing near the back of the section. Here I am, turning to watch the ball as it touched down:

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I couldn’t believe what happened next. I found myself standing all alone on the staircase as the other fan dropped the ball…and then the ball started bouncing right back down the steps toward me.

?!?!?!?!?!

I truly couldn’t believe it as it was happening. I bent down to scoop up my first grand slam ball ever…

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…and once I had it in my possession, the celebration was underway:

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Here I am going nuts…

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…and here I am running over to give Brandon (or someone) a high-five:

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I must’ve given more than 20 high-fives (and fist-bumps). It was truly insane.

Then I went back and grabbed my hat.

Happiness:

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Awe and disbelief:

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I was soooooo happy. Snagging a grand slam had been one of my lifelong goals, and now, finally, after two decades of going to games, I had finally done it. I called my parents. I called my girlfriend. I called a couple other people. I would’ve called everyone I knew if there were more time.

For the rest of the game, I kept asking Brandon the same two questions:

1) “Did that really happen?”
2) “Was that really a grand slam?”

The Yankees ended up winning the game, 8-2.

For Cano, it was his 25th home run of the season and 87th of his career. But here’s the cool stat: it was his 202nd hit of the season. I know that’s not a round number or a milestone or anything like that. I just like that fact that he has more than 200 hits and that I not only got one of them, but I got one AFTER hit No. 200.

After the game, I posed with the ball on the staircase where I’d snagged it:

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I posed with the ball about 50 more times after that (outside the stadium, on the subway, etc.) but I won’t torture you with all those pics.

The End.

(I still can’t believe it.)

SNAGGING STATS:

18_cano_grand_slam_ball.jpg• 5 balls at this game (the most important of which is pictured here on the right)

• 487 balls in 55 games this season = 8.85 balls per game.

• 624 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 486 consecutive games in New York with at least one ball

• 136 consecutive Yankee games with at least one ball

• 10 lifetime game home runs (not counting toss-ups from outfielders)

• 5 different stadiums with at least one game home run (Old Yankee, Shea, PETCO, Camden, and New Yankee)

• 4,307 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 126 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $25.26 pledged per ball

• $126.30 raised at this game

• $12,301.62 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

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8/26/09 at Coors Field

Talk about bad timing…

There was only half an hour of rain all day, and it came right around the time that the grounds crew would’ve been setting up the field for batting practice. When the gates opened, I was hoping to see various screens out on the field, but instead, THIS is what greeted me:

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See that yellow chain?

Not only was the infield covered, but I wasn’t even allowed to run down into the seats along the foul line; whether or not there’s BP at Coors Field, fans have to stay in the left/center field bleachers for the first half-hour.

There was, however, something good that happened as a result of the limited access and lack of baseball-snagging opportunities: I ran into a guy named David — a friend of a friend — who works inside the manual scoreboard and invited me back to check it out. Remember when I first visited the scoreboard on 6/20/08 at Coors Field? Well, this second visit was special because I was with my friend (and personal photographer) Brandon and got to share the experience with him.

Here I am inside the scoreboard:

Here’s a photo of David, monitoring the scores on a laptop:

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The TV in the background is new. It gets a special feed from the MLB Network and can display eight games at once.

I helped out a little by removing the previous day’s scores and placing the wooden panels back on their hooks…

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…but mainly I was just there to goof around:

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The lovely Ladies of the Scoreboard welcomed me and Brandon into their work space and seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm:

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That’s Nora on the left and Liz on the right. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that Nora has a small bandage on her right shin. Several days earlier, while working inside the scoreboard, she got nailed by a BP homer that sailed through one of the small openings.

Here’s a photo that shows how long and narrow the space is back there…

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…and here’s a shot I took of some cobwebs:

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Normally I get freaked out by cobwebs (I’m a city boy so I’m allowed to get freaked out by anything that even resembles nature or the wilderness; you get freaked out by riding the subway to the Bronx so we’re even), but it was oddly comforting to see them here. It showed that there can be neglected nooks and crannies even in a relatively new stadium.

I removed another panel and took a peek through the open space…

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…and noticed that there was a ball sitting on the field:

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Brandon and I left after that. I had to get back into the stands and make an attempt to snag it.

We headed down the steep steps…

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…and walked with Dave back through the employees’ concourse:

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He led us to the tunnel that connects to the center field bleachers, and we said our goodbyes.

It was several minutes past 5pm. The whole stadium was now open, which meant I was finally free to go to the right field seats. On my way out there, I ran into a friend and fellow ballhawk name Don (aka “Rockpile Ranter“), who was there with his son Hunter. The three of us barely had a chance to talk. I had to rush out to right field, and then I ended up getting pulled in a bunch of different directions, and they ended up leaving the game early because Don had to wake up for work the next day at 2:30am. Yeesh!

Anyway, right field…

I raced out there and grabbed the corner spot near the Rockies’ bullpen:

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Juan Rincon had started playing catch, and as he backed up, he kept getting closer and closer to the ball:

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Moments later, he was standing (and throwing) right behind it:

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I called his name, and he looked up.

I pointed at the ball and flapped my glove.

He picked it up and paused to look at it:

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(Was there something unusual that caught his attention?)

Then he turned to throw it to me, and I gave him a target:

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His throw (probably in the neighborhood of 50mph) was right on the money. I caught the ball one-handed in front of my right shoulder and felt incredibly relieved; my consecutive games streak had survived a BP-less day.

As for the ball, there WAS something unusual about it:

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Here’s a closer look at both the logo and the Dodgers’ stamp on the sweet spot.

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I’d snagged two of these balls the day before, and as I mentioned then, “WIN” stands for a charity called “Women’s Initiatives Network.”

A few more players came out and started throwing. Check out this magazine-quality photo that Brandon took of Rafael Betancourt:

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I was busy at that point, taking my own photos and stewing over the fact that it was sunny AND the tarp was still on the field:

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One of the Rockies’ pitchers made a bad throw that rolled all the way out to the grass in front of the warning track in straight-away center field. His throwing partner didn’t bother to retrieve the ball. As soon as I saw that (and because there were so many other fans along the foul line), I headed toward the left field bleachers. My simple plan was to position myself as close to the ball as possible — all the way out in the corner spot of the front row in left-center. There were several Dodgers in the bullpen. I was thinking that when they finished their throwing session and headed out of the ‘pen, I might be able to convince one of them to take a slight detour and walk over to the ball and toss it to me. My plan, however, was foiled as I headed toward the bleachers. I was running through the open-air concourse at the back of the bleachers when I noticed that a groundskeeper was driving a lawnmower on the grass at the edge of the warning track. He was heading right for the ball, and when he got close to it, he stopped the mower, climbed down, picked up the ball, stuck it in his pocket, and then kept mowing. By the time I made it down to the front row, he was driving past me. It was too loud for me to shout at him. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there and watched him mow a few more lanes into the outfield grass. Then, rather abruptly, he drove off into a wide ramp near the foul pole — a ramp that evidently leads to a concourse where the groundskeepers store their equipment. I rushed over to the edge of the ramp and waited for a minute. All of a sudden, the groundskeeper reappeared without the lawnmower and ran past me out onto the field. I don’t know what he did out there. Maybe he was on his way somewhere and forgot something because he then ran back to the ramp and disappeared into the concourse. Then he reappeared, and as he began to run past me for a second time, I yelled, “Hey, did you happen to pick up that baseball in center field?” He looked up and nodded, so I shouted, “Any chance I could have it, please?” He never said a word. Instead, he held up his right index finger as if to say, “Hold on.” Then he ran back into the concourse. Ten seconds later, he came running back with the ball and tossed it to me. Then he disappeared once again. How random is THAT?

Brandon, unfortunately, was on the phone while this whole thing played out, so he wasn’t able to get an action shot. Here’s a photo of me posing with the ball next to the ramp:

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Here’s a photo of the ball itself:

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As you can see, it’s rubbed with mud, which means it was either used during a game or was intended for game use. I love how the mud is caked into the stitch holes above the logo.

Here I am with Brandon:

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In case you’re wondering, Brandon was wearing a Padres cap because he’s from San Diego. (He hadn’t been home for 70 days because he’d been on the road with Warped Tour.) He WAS planning to sit with me during the game, but his family decided at the last minute to show up (they live 50 miles from Denver), so he spent the game with them on the 3rd base side.

Too bad for him. He missed the next round of action out in the bleachers…

My friends Robert Harmon (the bearded guy who nearly snagged Barry Bonds’ final home run ball) and Dan Sauvageau (the clean-shaven guy who has caught 41 game home runs on the fly) were engaged in a secret mission in one of the tunnels:

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What were they doing?

Umm…blowing up a huge, inflatable baseball glove.

Here are a couple photos of the finished product:

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As soon as Dan took those photos, I raced over to the seats along the left field foul line. I was hoping to get one of the Dodgers to throw me a pre-game warm-up ball, but instead I had to settle for getting Andre Ethier’s autograph on a ticket from the previous day:

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Do you see that nice little smudge? Ethier did that. After he “wrote” his name (if that’s even what he “wrote”), he carelessly touched it while handing the ticket back to me.

Once the game started, Brandon took a photo of me from afar. I’m sitting right behind the last “R” in the “Frontier Airlines” advertisement:

27_zack_during_game_from_afar.jpg

If you look to the left of me, there’s a guy wearing a maroon baseball cap. That’s Dan. He always sits near the Frontier ad, and he always wears that cap, so you can look for him on future home run highlights. His five-year-old daughter Emily (blonde hair) is sitting beside him. I’m not sure who the two guys are to the left of Emily, but the two people next to them are Nettie (platinum blonde) and her husband Danny (black cap), my “host parents” for the week.

Speaking of hair, this was my view of Manny Ramirez, who was unable to stand still for more than two seconds at a time:

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This was the best anti-Manny sign of the night:

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Once again, the fans were really letting Manny have it. My favorite heckles included:

• “Hey, Manny! We’re having a pool: who’s gonna have kids first, you or your wife?!”

• “Manny, it’s okay, I like boobs on a guy!”

• “Did you and Big Papi share a needle?”

• “Back to ‘The View,’ Sister Act!”

• “I didn’t know ‘HGH’ stands for Hair Growth Hormone!”

• “Girl, you know it’s true: you suck!”

I used to be a HUGE Manny fan, and even *I* will admit that he sucks. He’s a lazy, arrogant, one-dimensional player (who cheats, no less), and I feel that he deserves everything negative that comes his way as a result.

But enough of that…

If you’ve been reading this blog consistently since the beginning of this season, take a good look at the following photograph and see if you spot a familiar face somewhere in the crowd:

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Here’s a close-up of the photo above. Any thoughts? Here’s a hint: it’s a legendary ballhawk who doesn’t normally attend games at Coors Field:

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Okay, here’s one last chance to identify the mystery fan before I tell you the answer. He’s sitting halfway up the section just to the right of the steps. He’s wearing a black Rockies cap, a gray T-shirt, and black pants. He’s touching the right side of his face with his hand, and his elbow is resting on his right knee.

Come on!

If you’re going to call yourself a ballhawk (or even a fan of ballhawks), you have to know the all-time greats.

Here I am with him:

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It’s Rich Buhrke (pronounced “BRR-kee”) from Chicago. This man has snagged 178 game home runs (including five grand slams!) and more than 3,400 balls overall. Although Rich does count balls from Spring Training, it should be noted that more than 97 percent of his home runs are from actual regular-season or post-season major league games.

Halfway through the game, Robert was miked up for a segment on FSN that was going to air the next day. In the following photo, you can see the microphone’s battery pack sticking out of his pocket:

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Robert attends EVERY game and always sits in the front row in left-center. If you ever visit Coors Field, go find him and buy him a beer, or at least tell him that Zack from New York says hello. Anyway, Robert told the FSN producer about me, so the producer came over and told me that he was gonna have Robert sit with me for half an inning and ask me some questions, and that we should just have a normal conversation about baseball. The producer also mentioned that everything I said would get picked up by Robert’s microphone and might end up getting used on the air. Robert came over after that, and we did our thing, which was kind of silly because we just ended up talking about stuff that we’d discussed a hundred times in the past (how many balls have you snagged, what do you think about the new stadiums in New York, etc.), but it was still fun. Just about all TV is staged theater. Even when things look like they’re random and spontaneous, they’re not.

During an inning break late in the game, the Rockies’ mascot came running out onto the field for the “jersey launch.” Yes, jerseys. The Rockies don’t give away cheap T-shirts with fugly corporate logos (ahem, Citi Field, cough, cough). You see, at Coors Field, they do things right and give away real, authentic, high-quality, Majestic jerseys that fans are proud to wear — jerseys that would normally cost about $100 in the team store. Why am I telling you this? Because the mascot came running out on the warning track in front of my section. He (She? It?) had one of these jerseys in his hand, and as he started running out toward left-center, I followed him by running through the not-too-crowded aisle. It seemed like an obvious move, and eventually, as I predicted, the mascot flung the jersey into the crowd, and whaddaya know? It came right to me, and I made a leaping grab. Apparently this was a **BIG** deal, but I didn’t know it until Robert ran over and basically tried to mug me for the jersey (in a friendly way). Indeed, when I thought about it, it occurred to me that the jerseys had not been launched anywhere near the bleachers over the previous two days. They got shot (and in some cases tossed) into the crowd sparingly, and always in different spots.

Cool, huh?

Here I am wearing the jersey:

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Whose fingers are those behind my head? Robert’s, of course.

(See my glove sitting on the chair on the lower right? Thanks to Dan, my seat was a folding chair. I turned it around so that I’d be able to jump up and immediately start running for balls without having to maneuver around it.)

Here I am with Nettie and Danny:

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(Danny forgot to take his earphones out for the photo. He and Nettie both listen to the radio broadcasts of the games.)

And finally, here I am with Emily and Dan. As you can see, I borrowed some of Emily’s hair for the photo:

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I came really close to snagging Ryan Spilborghs’ solo homer in the bottom of the third inning. It sailed 10 feet over my head, landed on the staircase, and then ricocheted back toward me. Dan had raced up the steps ahead of me. I was right behind him. He got close enough to the ball that he ended up scrambling for it underneath a bench, but some lady (without a glove, of course) managed to reach down and grab it.

Andre Ethier hit two homers for the Dodgers, both of which landed in the bullpens in right-center field.

What a waste.
Still a fun day.

Final score: Dodgers 6, Rockies 1.

SNAGGING STATS:

• 2 balls at this game

• 395 balls in 46 games this season = 8.59 balls per game.

pitch_in_for_baseball4.jpg

• 615 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 174 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,215 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 120 donors (click here if you’re thinking about making a donation)

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $49.72 raised at this game

• $9,819.70 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

8/25/09 at Coors Field

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’m staying here in Denver with my friends Danny and Nettie. Danny has THE most extraordinary collection of baseballs you’ll ever see. I blogged about it last year and showed a bunch of photos. Yesterday I visited his office where he has even more memorabilia. It’s truly unbelievable…

First, here’s a shot of Danny in his office. It was such a big space that I had to take two photos and fuse them together with Photoshop:

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Seriously, THAT is an office.

Here’s a look at one of the walls:

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Here are some bobblehead dolls:

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Did you notice the shelves below?

Yup, all different kinds of baseballs. Here are my four favorites:

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Here’s another cool ball, which has a painting of Buck O’Neil along with some info about him on the other side:

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Of all the balls in Danny’s collection, my absolute favorite is this:

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Those little metal things are the actual sewing needles.

Wow.

Here are some wooden baseballs…

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…and yes, Danny has a matching set from the American League.

Danny has a closet in his office.

Does he hang coats in there?

No, of course not.

He has more baseball stuff:

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Have you ever seen a “Gold Glove Award” baseball?

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Neither had I.

Danny has a few non-baseball items, such as this signed program from a golf tournament in 1994:

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There actually IS a baseball autograph in there — someone who was serving as a caddy for one of the golfers. Can anyone pick out the signature and identify whose it is?

After the office tour, Nettie and Danny took me to lunch (they’re outstanding host-parents), and I headed to Coors Field at around 4pm. It had drizzled a bit earlier in the afternoon, and it was still cloudy when the gates opened, but there WAS batting practice.

I started out in the front row…

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…and got Jorge De La Rosa to toss me my first ball of the day.

Then I met up with my friend Brandon. Here he is, refusing to look at the camera:

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If Brandon looks familiar, that’s because we’ve been to several games together including (but not limited to):

4/24/08 at Champion Stadium
8/29/08 at PETCO Park
8/30/08 at Angel Stadium

Brandon is a professional photographer/videographer, and once again, he got some great photos of me in “action.” (The word “action” is in quotes because, as you’ll see, there wasn’t much of it.)

mark_strittmatter_2009.jpgMy second ball of the day was tossed by Rockies coach Mark Strittmatter at the 1st base dugout just after the Rockies finishing taking BP.

After that, I changed into my Dodgers gear and headed back to left field. My Dodgers shirt does, unfortunately, say “RAMIREZ 99″ on the back. I’m no longer a Manny fan, and in fact I was ashamed to have his name on my back. But, for the record, I bought the shirt long before he was busted for steroids, and I do still feel somewhat of a connection to him because (as I’ve mentioned in the past) I’ve been close friends with Manny’s high school coach since Manny was in high school. The point is, it’s hard not to root for a guy that I’ve been hearing about since he was 16 years old, but I *am* in fact done with him.

Anyway…

I was dying to snag some balls from the Dodgers because of this. In case you’re too lazy to click the link, it’s a photo of fan from Los Angeles who’s known as “Mannywood” on MyGameBalls.com. In the photo, he’s holding a baseball that was stamped “DodgersWIN” on the sweet spot. The “WIN” stands for a charity called Women’s Initiatives Network. There’d been some talk about these new stamped balls in the comments section on this blog and so…I really REALLY wanted to get one.

Someone on the Dodgers hit a ball that rolled to the wall in left-center. I positioned myself right above the ball as Ramon Troncoso walked over to retrieve it. Here’s a photo of me leaning over the wall, asking him for it:

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Troncoso looked up and flipped me the ball, or at least I thought he did. The ball sailed five feet over my head and landed behind me in the wide front-row aisle. I scrambled back and grabbed it off the ground, and when I looked at the ball, I was excited and puzzled and slightly disappointed. Here’s what was on the sweet spot:

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I’d forgotten that the Dodgers are now stamping their baseballs in two different ways. Yes…it was all coming back to me. I’d seen photos of these “DODGERTOWN” balls as well. It was great to finally have one, but I still really wanted one of the balls that said DodgersWIN.

Two seconds after I grabbed this ball, I realized that Troncoso had been trying to toss it to a little kid who’d been standing in the front row behind the aisle. I decided to give him the ball…but wait…did I have to give him THAT ball? Could I keep the one that said DODGERTOWN and give him the regular ball from Strittmatter instead? The kid was there with his mother, and I explained the situation to them and pointed out the stamp on the sweet spot. The mother assured me that the kid just wanted *a* ball and didn’t care what was printed or stamped on it, so I made the switch.

I headed to the left field corner and lined myself up with Guillermo Mota and Jonathan Broxton. They were the last two guys who were playing catch, and Mota promised to give me the ball when he was done. I looked closely at it each time he took it out of his glove, and I finally saw that it was a brand new DodgersWIN ball. I was bursting with anticipation as the throwing session came to an end. When Mota caught the final throw, he flung the ball directly from his glove, and it sailed ten feet wide. The seats were empty at that point except for ONE guy who happened to be sitting right where the ball was heading. He didn’t even have a glove. He just reached back and snatched it out of the air with his left hand. I wasn’t too pleased. Mota didn’t even acknowledge his mistake, nor did he hook me up with another ball. He just walked out toward the middle of the field, and that was that.

I headed to right field and ran around nonstop…

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…but didn’t catch anything.

Then I went back to left field and did some more fruitless running:

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The photo above is actually kinda cool. As Troncoso was running for that ball, I was racing over from the opposite direction, hoping to get near it and convince him to toss it up.

Here’s another action shot. It shows me racing down the steps from the right while another guy is racing down on the left. We were both going for the ball that was sitting on the warning track:

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It’s hard to tell from this angle, but that ball was about five feet out from the wall, so none of the fans were able to reach it. Once I moved into the front row, I let out of a few feet worth of string (which is tied to my glove) and easily knocked the ball closer. I bent down and grabbed it, and I was thrilled to see that it had a DodgersWin logo! But then some guy in the front row started making a big fuss about how the ball had been thrown to his kid, and he basically demanded that I hand it over. It was the biggest crock, and I was stunned when the other fans nearby took his side. The whole thing was about to turn ugly. I offered to give one of my regular balls instead, but they wouldn’t accept it. They wanted the DodgersWIN ball (even though they were Rockies fans). I had two choices: 1) Tell them all to **** off or 2) give them the damn ball. Fifteen years ago, I would’ve gone with Option No. 1, but this is 2009, and I like to think of myself as being a bit more generous and mature, so I went with Option No. 2. (What would YOU have done?) I figured I’d snag another one of those balls at some point in the following two days, so as frustrating as it was to finally get my hands on one and then immediately turn it over, I wasn’t terribly concerned.

Broxton (who is NOT a friendly man) had seen the whole thing play out and rewarded me with another ball. DodgersWIN?! No…Dodgertown. It was my fifth ball of the day (counting the two I’d given away).

Batting practice was almost done so I headed to the Dodgers’ dugout as everyone was coming off the field. Then, totally unexpectedly, a ball came flying up from below. Someone had tossed it from inside the dugout. It landed on the roof about five feet to my right and started rolling away from me. Luckily, the front row was empty enough that I had room to chase after it and grab it. I had no idea where Brandon was at that point, and in fact I was annoyed that he wasn’t with me. I didn’t know that he was watching my every move from afar, and as I learned later, he took a photo of me taking a photo of the ball. Did that make sense?

Here…look at the photo below. The arrow is pointing to me, and I’m taking a picture of the ball that I’d just snagged:

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Why was I photographing it?

Check it out:

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Hell YES!

I’d snagged both kinds of balls and met Brandon back in left field:

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Before the game, I got Casey Blake to sign a ticket…

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…and then Blake tossed me his warm-up ball at the dugout five minutes later. It was another DodgersWIN ball, and then moments later, Rafael Furcal tossed me one that said DODGERTOWN. There was NO competition for balls at the dugout. The only challenge was that the ushers made me stay behind Row 10. That’s just one of the silly rules here. But thankfully there was no one in front of me with a glove.

This was my view during the game:

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The fans behind me were heckling Manny nonstop. More on this in a bit…

This was the view to my left, and if you look closely, you’ll see a tiny red dot in the aisle, off in the distance:

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I put that dot there to indicate where I ended up after running for Blake’s home run in the top of the 4th. It was probably 80 feet away, and I might’ve caught it had it actually landed in the aisle, but no, it landed three rows deep. That was the first of three home runs. Brad Hawpe hit the second one to center field in the bottom of the 4th (Jameson Sutton nearly caught it) and Clint Barmes hit one to my section in the 7th. I was in line at a concession stand at that particular moment (duh) so you know who ended up catching it? Dan Sauvageau, the guy who hooked me up with the front row ticket in the first place. Here he is with his five-year-old daughter Emily, who’s holding THE home run ball:

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It’s the 41st game home run that Dan has caught on the fly. He’s snagged another 50 or so that have landed in the front row, but he doesn’t even count those.

Now, about those Manny hecklers…

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They were out in full force. Here’s a Top Ten list (in reverse order) of the best heckles I heard:

10) “Get a haircut, you cheater!”
9) “How does it feel to be the worst left fielder in the National League?!”
8) “Where’d you get your uniform, Goodwill?”
7) “Man-roid!”
6) “Hey, Manny, I got some weed for you from Jackson Heights!”
5) “You look like the Predator!”
4) “The only thing steroids gave you was hemorrhoids!”
3) “Hey, Manny! One word: shrinkage!”
2) “When you heard that Tulo hit for the cycle, did you think you had a new friend?!”
1) “You let everybody down!”

After Heckle No. 6, I shouted, “It’s Washington Heights!” to which the heckler replied, “Whatever, he doesn’t know the difference!”

There were, of course, a number of anti-gay (and otherwise obscene) taunts, the worst of which came from a fan who was wearing a Mets cap. Of course, the ushers did nothing to stop him, and yet security felt the need to stop me from using my harmless glove trick the day before for a damp ball that wasn’t even on the field.

The game went into extra innings. I moved to the seats behind home plate with Brandon. The Rockies put runners on the corners with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. Coors Field was rocking:

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Then, after a one-out intentional walk loaded the bases, Troy Tulowitzki delivered a walk-off single. His teammates mobbed him behind second base:

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I didn’t get a ball from the ump. I didn’t get a ball from the Dodgers relievers when they walked in from the bullpen. Nothing. My night was over. But I’m not complaining. I snagged a bunch of interesting balls, hung out with some friends, and saw another great game.

Final score: Rockies 5, Dodgers 4.

SNAGGING STATS:

28_the_six_balls_i_kept.jpg• 8 balls at this game (6 pictured here because I gave two away)

• 393 balls in 45 games this season = 8.73 balls per game.

• 614 consecutive games with at least one ball

• 173 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

• 4,213 total balls

CHARITY STATS:

• 120 donors (click here and scroll down for the complete list)

• $24.86 pledged per ball

• $198.88 raised at this game

• $9,769.98 raised this season for Pitch In For Baseball

4/24/08 at Champion Stadium

I brought a secret weapon for my third and final game at Disney, and to make myself stand out even more, I bought an obnoxious/eye-catching shirt on my way to Champion Stadium. Are you ready for this? Hang on tight. Here goes:

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Yes, I had the biggest baseball glove that anyone had ever seen. Don’t ask me where I got it or how much it cost. I have no idea. All I can tell you is that a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) sent it as a surprise house-warming gift when I moved last month.

There weren’t any other fans around when I pulled out the glove to take this pic, but several stadium employees ended up walking by and asking a bunch of questions: “Where’d you get that thing?” (I don’t know. A friend sent it to me.) “How much did it cost?” (Unlike you, I was polite enough not to ask.) “Is that Shaquille O’Neal’s glove?” (Actually it’s Verne Troyer’s chair.) “You wouldn’t happen to be compensating for something, would you?” (Ask my girlfriend.) “Is that real leather?” (I think so.) “Can you actually catch with that?” (Probably not.)

And so on. It was fun to get all that attention, and I was hoping that the players on the Rays and Blue Jays would notice me as well.

brandon.jpgShortly before the stadium opened, a 20-something-year-old guy walked over and introduced himself. His name was Brandon. He’d been reading this blog for a while and knew I was gonna be at this game. He’d written to me on MySpace a week earlier (here’s HIS profile) to say he’d be there too, but because I’m a slacker when it comes to that site, I hadn’t gotten the message…so he summarized it. Basically, he’s the photographer for a band called The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. They’re on tour. He’s traveling around with them. They were playing a few shows at Disney. He had an off day and was spending it here, and he offered to follow me around and take a ton of photos.

He didn’t miss a thing. He even got me going through the bag check:

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Thankfully, unlike John Adams, the fan in Cleveland who brings a drum into the stadium, I didn’t have to buy an extra ticket for my oversized item.

The left field berm was dead as usual, and I don’t understand why. For the first 20 minutes, there was not ONE home run that landed there, and as I mentioned before, the slope of the hill and the height of the outfield wall made it impossible to see the warning track. At any regular major league stadium, fans would’ve been asking for the balls in the pic below, but here at Disney we were oblivious:

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I didn’t use the big glove at first. I decided to snag like a normal person while the berm was still reasonably empty, and before long, I had a chance to catch one. Someone on the Rays hit a deep fly ball, and one of the pitchers (Edwin Jackson, I think) ran back and made the catch and disappeared from sight. In the four-part pic below, you can see exactly what happened next. Starting from the upper left and then going clockwise, we’re all reaching up with our gloves in anticipation of the ball being tossed over. Then, when the ball flies up in the air, we all jockey for position. On the lower left, I’m jumping and reaching unsuccessfully for the ball, and on the lower right, I’m landing and feeling both frustrated AND good about myself. Check out the pics, and then I’ll explain why…

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Okay, see the little kid wearing blue who’s standing on my right? I knew he was standing there before the ball was tossed, so when it started sailing to my right…well, rather than moving in that direction and potentially bumping into him while getting under the ball, I sacrificed my own chance of catching it in order to prevent him from getting hurt. In other words, I didn’t move laterally. Instead I jumped straight up and reached to my right, and as it turned out, the ball missed my glove by six inches, but NO ONE GOT HURT. I can’t stress enough how important it is to respect the safety of the fans around you, especially when there are little kids involved. One of the reasons why I hate Yankee Stadium so much is that the “grown-ups” there are truly out of control. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been knocked down while reaching for balls just like this.

There still weren’t any homers being hit, and the berm was getting uncomfortably crowded, so I finally broke out the big glove:

zack_breaks_out_the_big_glove.jpg

I got a few laughs from the Blue Jays pitchers in the left field corner, but I realized this wasn’t the best time or place to harass them; they were just starting to throw (and therefore needed their baseballs), and the Rays were still hitting (so even if a ball had been hit to the Jays, it wouldn’t have been theirs to give away), so I ran around the stadium and found a spot in the right field corner. Dan Wheeler, a former Mets reliever who always used to talk to me at Shea Stadium, was out there and immediately recognized me.

“What’s up!” I yelled, holding the big glove up in the air.

“Can you fit all your balls in there?” he asked.

“Not quite,” I told him as another player (not sure who) walked over and asked me to toss the glove down.

“Let me try out that glove,” said the other player, “and I’ll give you a ball.”

I didn’t have to think twice about it. I tossed the glove over the railing (and briefly got scolded by a security guard until I informed him that one of the players ASKED me to do it), and the player with the glove headed back to straight-away right field and started posing:

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Wheeler ended up being the one to reward me with a baseball, and Brandon took a pic JUST as I was about to catch it:

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The snagging was underway, and life was good. (If you look closely at the pic below, you can see the mark on my nose where I was hit with a ball two days earlier.)

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The Rays player (can anyone tell who it is?) tried fielding a few batted balls and then flung the glove back up to me:

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I reached out and made another clean catch:

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Shortly before the Rays’ wrapped up their portion of batting practice, I told Wheeler that if he got another ball and put it on the warning track below me, I’d show his teammates the glove trick and then give the ball to a kid of his choice.

Less than 10 seconds later, there was ball in place, but unfortunately, as soon as I started setting up my glove, the players had to run off the field and make way for the Blue Jays.

“Make sure you give it to a kid!” shouted Wheeler as he ran off.

“Don’t worry, I will!” I yelled and we both waved goodbye.

For some reason, my string was more tangled than ever before, but the trick still worked, and I reeled in the ball with ease:

zack_reeling_in_ball_for_kid.jpg

There were a few kids to my right who asked for the ball, but they weren’t wearing gloves so I kept scanning the section. (I never give balls to kids without gloves. When I was a kid, I ALWAYS brought my glove to games and I remember how badly I wanted a ball. Even when I was starving and got my first hot dog of the day, I’d wait until the third out to eat it, and in the meantime, I was often standing on my chair and holding my glove high over my head and shrieking, “Hit it heeeeeeeeere!!!” so whenever I see a kid without a glove, it tells me he [or she] doesn’t care THAT much about getting a ball, and when I see a kid who IS wearing a glove, it reminds me of myself.) The smallest kid around happened to be wearing a glove, and even though he was wearing a Braves cap, I called him over and started walking down the steps. The kid started climbing over the benches, and his father was smiling in the background. It was a pretty cute scene:

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I put on my Blue Jays cap and ran back to the berm. Not only was it still dead out there, but now I had to battle the sun:

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Eventually there was a little action, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Jason Frasor threw me a ball and missed. Then another ball was tossed over my head, and I raced up the hill for it…

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…and lost:

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It didn’t help that I was carrying my backpack and the big glove, so I put them both down just behind the outfield wall, but that didn’t help either as I lost another race:

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It was time once again for some Big Glove Love:

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All the Blue Jays pitchers immediately spotted me and started cracking up. B.J. Ryan tossed me a ball (my third of the day) which I managed to catch IN the glove. This was quite an accomplishment. The glove was so big and heavy that it was impossible to close all the way. It was also a bit stiff, as new gloves tend to be. How am I supposed to break it in? Rubber-band it around a basketball and stick it under my mattress?

Moments later, Jeremy Accardo called me over to the foul pole, and when I got there, he said he wanted to use the big glove for a few minutes, and he offered me a ball in exchange. I couldn’t believe it. He’d already thrown me a ball each of the last two days, and now here he was asking ME for something and handing me another ball. Incredible.

We made the trade…

zack_trading_glove_for_ball.jpg

…and he took the glove into left field:

jeremy_accardo_big_glove.jpg

I was wearing my regular glove when he ran over and threw the big one back to me:

jeremy_accardo_throwing_big_glove.jpg

I made two jumping catches in the next ten minutes. The first was a ball that landed in the fenced-off gap next to the berm and was tossed up by a random employee. The second was a ball that rolled onto the warning track along the left field foul line and was thrown by Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos. Then I snagged two more balls from the bullpen with my glove trick, and I want to thank Jim from St. Louis (the guy wearing the Cardinals cap in the pics below) for pointing out the first one. It was about eight feet out from the wall, so before I rigged the glove with the Sharpie, I flung it out and tried to knock the ball back toward me:

bullpen_glove_trick1a.jpg

It took longer than it should have…

bullpen_glove_trick1b.jpg

…and I was almost certain that stadium security would appear and force me to stop, but they didn’t, and before long, I’d moved the ball close enough to lower the glove straight down over it:

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The second bullpen ball (number eight on the day) was much easier. It was already sitting right next to the wall, and I had it in my glove within seconds:

bullpen_glove_trick2a.jpg

Everyone stared as I headed to the dugout toward the end of BP…

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…and as soon as I got there, the on-field photographer swung his camera around and started taking pics of me instead of the players:

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My one complaint about Brandon is that he didn’t tell me that the tag was sticking out of my hat, but I suppose he was just doing his job. As a photographer, he’s probably just supposed to document history, not change it.

I ended up getting my ninth ball tossed at the dugout by some random kid who happened to be standing on the warning track. (Hey, it counts.)

I didn’t have any luck during pre-game throwing along the left field foul line…

zack_pregame_throwing.jpg

…so I hurried over to the Rays’ dugout:

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Did you notice the Rays smiling at me? Here’s a close-up of the pic above:

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I didn’t think I was going to get a ball there because Carlos Pena, the Rays 1st baseman, was one of the last two guys throwing. First basemen rarely toss their pre-game warm-up balls into the crowd because they use them again when they actually take the field…but Pena couldn’t resist. If you look closely at the pic below, you can see him smiling too as he walked toward the dugout:

carlos_pena_smiling_at_zack.jpg

Look closely again at the following two pics and you can see the ball in mid-air. Here it is in front of the police officer’s right elbow…

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…and here it is about to enter my glove. There are four holes in the pocket, and you can see the bottom half of the ball through the upper right hole:

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I should’ve used two hands to squeeze the glove shut, but I didn’t and the ball popped out, so I had to grab it with my bare hand. Jonny Gomes (the player standing on the left, watching intently) was disappointed when I bobbled it and made me give the ball back to him so he could toss it again. He probably thought I was a complete klutz, and I don’t blame him because I *did* look shaky with the big glove, but I doubt he had any idea just how hard it was to use. Anyway, he’s not even a good fielder with a normal glove, so whatever, and for the record, I got the ball to stay in the glove when he tossed it back to me.

I ran into the Rays’ cheerleaders and let them be in a photo with me…

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…and then I walked with Brandon to the open-air concourse along the right field foul line. I’d snagged a foul ball there during each of the previous two games, but it was dead for Game Three. It was so dead that I went outside the stadium for half-an inning, hoping that the hard-throwing Dustin McGowan would induce a few monstrous foul balls, but no. Still, I have two things to say about being out there:

1) Big thanks to Andrew (who also reads this blog) for letting me go out there. He was about to head outside as well but then generously changed his ball-snagging plan and let me go outside by myself.

2) Since I couldn’t see the batters or hear the PA announcer, and since the game wasn’t on the radio, I had no way of following the action, so Brandon stayed on the inside and called my cell phone and gave me the play-by-play. (“Here’s the pitch…NOW.”) Even though nothing came over, it was fun just to have an accomplice and make an attempt. And by the way, this was my view as I stood outside the stadium, looking up at the sky:

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The game itself was fine. Nothing spectacular. (The highlight was hanging out with Brandon.) The Rays won, 5-3, to sweep the series and improve to 6-0 all time at Champion Stadium. McGowan took the loss. Andy Sonnanstine made a quality start to pick up the win. Carl Crawford went 3-for-5 with two stolen bases. Evan Longoria was 2-for-2 with a double and a triple. Troy Percival worked a scoreless ninth to earn his 328th career save, and that was pretty much it.

I’ll leave you with a few more pics that might be of interest. First, here’s a shot that Brandon took mid-game from the first base side…just a nice look at the stadium:

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Here’s a pic I took of a table in the concourse that was loaded with free stuff, including magnetic schedules (on the far left) and vouchers for free tickets at Tropicana Field (on the right). If there’s anyone reading this who wants some vouchers, leave a comment or send me an email. I took a whole bunch of them to give away. (Do they give these out AT the Trop?) It’s nice of the Rays to give them out, but it’s also sad that a major league team literally can’t give away free tickets. FYI, you have to redeem them at the Rays’ box office, and they’re only good for weekend games in May and June.

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Here’s a pic of the nine balls I kept:

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I didn’t get anything after the game except a pack of sunflower seeds at the Blue Jays’
sunflower_seeds.jpgdugout and a free ride back to my hotel from a father/son snagging duo named Paul and Michael. So…another thanks to them. I can’t believe how many people I met on this trip who read this blog…Leigh from San Diego (aka “padreleigh”), Paul and Michael, Andrew, Jim from St. Louis, and Brandon. Am I forgetting anyone? Hope not.

I’m not sure when my next game will be. I might go to Shea on Monday. (Anyone else planning to be there?) I’ll probably (unfortunately) be going to Yankee Stadium Tuesday through Friday as long as the weather’s nice. I might head up to Boston for Manny’s 500th home run. I might go to Shea for Griffey’s 600th. I’m now officially planning to go to Coors Field this season (I have a few friends out there now, and there’s also a Denver-based writer who wants to do a story on me). I’ve also been offered a free trip to Wrigley Field. And has anyone heard about the Mets and Marlins playing in Puerto Rico later this season? Details, please! I might need to go and raise my stadium total to 45. Oh, and another random thing…I haven’t had time to answer comments for the last few days, but I’m planning to catch up very soon, so if you’re waiting for a response, keep an eye on my recent entries.

Last thing, I promise…

STATS:

? 10 balls at this game

? 78 lifetime games with at least 10 balls

? 87 balls in 8 games this season = 10.875 balls per game.

? 504 consecutive games with at least one ball

? 112 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

? 801 lifetime balls outside of New York (The ball from the kid at the dugout was No. 800.)

? 3,364 total balls

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